Rembrandt's Jews Hardcover – November 3, 2003
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From the Inside Flap
Rembrandt's Jews puts this myth to the test as it examines both the legend and the reality of Rembrandt's relationship to Jews and Judaism. In his elegantly written and engrossing tour of Jewish Amsterdam—which begins in 1653 as workers are repairing Rembrandt's Portuguese-Jewish neighbor's house and completely disrupting the artist's life and livelihood—Steven Nadler tells us the stories of the artist's portraits of Jewish sitters, of his mundane and often contentious dealings with his neighbors in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, and of the tolerant setting that city provided for Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews fleeing persecution in other parts of Europe. As Nadler shows, Rembrandt was only one of a number of prominent seventeenth-century Dutch painters and draftsmen who found inspiration in Jewish subjects. Looking at other artists, such as the landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael and Emmanuel de Witte, a celebrated painter of architectural interiors, Nadler is able to build a deep and complex account of the remarkable relationship between Dutch and Jewish cultures in the period, evidenced in the dispassionate, even ordinary ways in which Jews and their religion are represented—far from the demonization and grotesque caricatures, the iconography of the outsider, so often found in depictions of Jews during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Through his close look at paintings, etchings, and drawings; in his discussion of intellectual and social life during the Dutch Golden Age; and even through his own travels in pursuit of his subject, Nadler takes the reader through Jewish Amsterdam then and now—a trip that, under ever—threatening Dutch skies, is full of colorful and eccentric personalities, fiery debates, and magnificent art.
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This testimony of Sephardic grandeur survives within the confines of Art and literature. Here we see Rembrandt in a sense, inadvertently chosen, to be a chronicler of the survival and rebirth of a proud and prominent people.
In Nadler's book we read this episode in Sephardic history unfolding in a very eloquent way. Nadler's research into this perplexing Jewish phenomena is noteworthy and I enjoy reading Nadler's account of interaction between The Spanish and Portuguese Jews and their Protestant neighbors from Amsterdam, specifically Rembrandt, who I have an artistic affinity towards. My only complaint being that Nadler could have given us more color plates to appreciate and mull over, while turning the pages.
Shmuel Fuentes Hazzan
Rembrandt was entranced by light and shadow; his chiaroscuro paintings of the faces of elderly Jewish men testify to the delight he took in the play of light and darkness on facial planes. His treatment of Jewish subjects and themes is always respectful; one even senses a certain awe on his part. His paintings of the local Jews are somber most of the time, the faces staring out from their frames present an alien race, patient, stubborn, mysterious, dignified, and solemn. Rembrandt's own turbulent life is well-documented in the book but by far the most interesting aspect of his life remains these sensitive portraits of Jewish faces, a legacy to the world and a worthwhile study in their own right. The author also goes the extra step in explaining the background of some of the Biblical paintings, for example, Belshazzar's Feast, for a reading public that may not be all that familiar with the Hebrew Bible.
Altogether this is an excellent book for the serious student of history, art, or Judaica.