Object Record

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Catalog number P91
Artist Rembrandt van Rijn
Title Jews in the Synagogue
Date 1648
Object Name Print
Description Rembrandt's Jews in the Synagogue depicts Jewish life in mid-17th century Amsterdam. It is indicative of the interconnection and mutual respect of different cultures at the beginnings of the pluralistic society pioneered by the Dutch at that time. Much of Holland's development occurred during Rembrandt's life, including the settlement of various Jewish groups attracted to the Netherlands in the early 17th century by the promise of religious tolerance and a thriving economy. The two largest groups were the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews, who no longer had to feign the belief in Christianity that had been forced upon them in their adopted homelands. By 1796, Jews were granted full citizen rights in the Netherlands and contributed to the national life in social, political and economic areas.

In part because of their presence, Amsterdam became more open to the world, more modern and forward-looking. Rembrandt is thought to have interacted with Jews when he moved to the Breestraat section of the city, also known as the "Jewish Quarter," which was heavily populated by Portuguese Jews whose reason and intellect advanced the broader spirit of inquiry more than the insular Calvinist theologians of the time. Although he was most likely raised under the Calvinist belief system, Rembrandt's work implies that he identified with ancient Hebrew history and was informed by ancient Jewish sources (like St. Jerome).

Furthermore, while living in this community, Rembrandt probably came into contact with the famous Menasseh ben Israel, a Portuguese rabbi, kabbalist, scholar, diplomat, and founder of the first Hebrew printing press. This is possibly why he was so well informed about ancient Jewish sources beyond the Bible, including rabbinic text and Hebrew legend.

Although there has been some debate among scholars, the subjects are most likely Ashkenazim, recognizable by their side-curls and tall fur hats. This work is
especially significant in that Rembrandt gives a more accurate, enlightened and unbiased portrayal of Jews than many other Renaissance artists, who often
caricaturized Jews in an unflattering light.
Elizabeth Lamourt, in "SCHOLARS, EXPLORERS, PRIESTS, How the Renaissance Gave Us the Modern World," ex. cat. G -T M, Queens College, CUNY, February 2 - March 27, 2010.
Medium/Material Ink on paper
Dimensions H-3.25 W-5.35 inches
Search Terms Baroque
17th century AD
Figural
Devotional
Portrait
Genre scene
Netherlands
Europe
Culture Dutch