The enigma of the Jewish bride in the National Gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

The enigma of the Jewish bride in the National Gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition

Visitors to the National Gallery’s Rembrandt exhibition have been wondering who the Jewish Bride is in the celebrated artist’s painting. Rebecca Wallersteiner offers an explanation..

More than 350 years after it was painted, Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride remains an enigma.

Opnamedatum: 2009-06-10  OIL ON CANVAS 121.5 X 166.5 CM

The portrait of a young couple as Isaac and Rebecca, better known as ‘The Jewish Bride’ 1665 depicts the couple’s tender affection for each other in a sympathetic depiction of this Old Testament pair. It is currently being shown at the National Gallery until January 18th, as part of the ‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ exhibition and lent by the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

For centuries people speculated who the Jewish couple in this iconic picture might be. The painting gained its name in the early 19th century when an Amsterdam art collector identified the subject as that of a Jewish father bestowing a necklace upon his daughter on her wedding day.

This explanation is no longer accepted. Other art historians have suggested that the couple might be Abraham and Sarah, or Boaz and Ruth. Their most likely identity is as a biblical allegory of Old Testament pair; Isaac and Rebecca. (Genesis 26:8).

This is supported by a drawing by Rembrandt on the same theme. Like many 17th century artists Rembrandt was fond of using biblical allegories in his work. Wealthy Dutch merchants were partial to being portrayed as historical characters to add gravitas to their new money. This is a brilliant portrayal of a couple’s early love, she shy, him protective.

The man places a tender arm over his bride’s heart, an ageless gesture of devotion. He stands over her attentively. She, in turn, lightly touches his hand with humility and kindness. According to Rembrandt biographer Christopher White the ‘Jewish Bride’ is “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusions of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.”

It is likely that this exquisite painting has hidden layers of meaning. Rembrandt was friends with Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel, the founder of the Modern Jewish community in England, and it’s been suggested that he dreamt of reconciliation between the two religions. This picture may secretly represent this desire.

Upon viewing the painting for the first time in 1885, Vincent Van Gogh confessed to a friend that he would gladly give up ten years of his life to be able to sit in front of the painting for a fortnight with only a crust of bread to eat. He exclaimed in a letter to his brother Theo: ‘What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting.’

The couple’s identity remains a mystery: Their names may be lost – but their love survives.

• Rembrandt: The Late Works: 15 October 2014 – 18 January 2015. The National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing, Admission – Adult £18; Senior (60+) £16. Student/National Art Pass/Job Seeker, £9.

For more details about the exhibition see www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments