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the jewish bride (c. 1665-69), rembrandt

Artist: Rembrandt

Technique: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 121.5 x 166.5 cm

Date: c. 1665-1669

Location of creation:

Current Location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Holland

Movements: Golden Dutch Age painting

Theme: Biblical

Subject: Couple

painting summary

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general description

This painting depicts a couple in large exuberant and lustrous clothing – the man in gold and the woman in red – alone in a dark, almost indistinguishable setting. While the woman is adorned with pearls, both on her wrists and neck, wearing a ring on each hand and a large ball gown, gazing at the left, the man, who stands on her right, gently holds her in her shoulder with his left hand and her chest with his right hand, as she softly touches this hand with her left – in what it seems to be a protective gesture. The man in voluminous and rich golden clothing looks at the floor at the right, as they carry their intimate gestures.

The painting is charged with ambiguity, as the identity of the couple remains unknown and the painting’s contextual setting cannot be discerned. The lack of these notes makes for a universal message of love. Even though theories indicate that these figures are either Titus (Rembrandt’s son) and his bride, or Miguel de Barrios (an Amsterdam poet) and his wife, it is also believed that they might be a couple from the Old Testament – for example, Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham and Sarah, or Boaz and Ruth. The most likely identity for the couple is Isaac and Rebekah, as it is backed up by a Rembrandt drawing which he created years before. This biblical story tells the tail of the Jewish Bride. From the Genesis chapter XXVI, this biblical story of the marriage between the two characters, narrates that Isaac passed Rebekah as his sister, while staying in the land of the Philistines, to prevent being murdered and having his wife captured by the Philistine King. The couple was later caught by the Philistine King, Abimelech, making love. Isaac is censured for his actions of deception, which could have led any man to unknowingly bed a married woman, bringing dishonour on himself. With this in mind, the artist depicts the couple in a tender moment of intimacy. The parallels between this story and Rembrandt’s relationship with his wife, Hendrickje, is purely speculative, and is most likely to be just a return to his well cherished biblical painting.

This painting is an example of Rembrandt’s narrative works (either mythological or biblical), and, according to Christopher White, it is “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.” This is also representative of what are considered to be Rembrandt’s Baroque portraits, completed during his last years of life. This particular painting demonstrates the mastery of the artist in communicating human emotion, as it is believed to be one of the greatest portrait paintings of Rembrandt’s final artistic stage, exploring his mastery over psychological portraiture.

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content analysis

Love: The focal theme of the painting is one of the most universal concepts of all, love. By depicting a couple joined in love, Rembrandt is one of the most successful, and one of the few artists to capture the real expression of love, during the Baroque period. Above all, this is a exotic representation of a romantic and intimate story, something uncommon in a primarily Christian society.

Intimacy and Serenity: The intimacy between the man and the woman, engaging each other in a tender gesture (an unusual seduction scene, but a good enough subject for Golden Dutch Age painting), as the man touches her chest, and she moves instantly to preserve her modesty, as it was common in the new styles of Protestant Reformation Art. The innocence of their love is also suggested by the lightness of their touch and their serene expressions, something that contrasts with the voluminous and luxurious fabrics and draperies.

The History of the Title/Ambiguity: This painting remained unnamed for centuries, and only obtained its current title by the beginning of the 19th century, when an Amsterdam art collector compared the narrative in the painting with the actions of a Jewish father, who gives his daughter a necklace on her wedding day. Adding to its ambiguity, the identity of the couple is still unknown, even though many art historians believe in the possibility they are Isaac and Rebekah, from the Old Testament story, it cannot be truly confirmed.

The Mysterious Subject: Even though many believe the couple in the painting is Isaac and Rebekah, there have been plenty of speculations around other possibilities for their identity and their impact on the interpretation of the subject matter. With no consensus about those possibilities, although it is strongly believed this is a historical painting, the different opinions indicate the couple might be Titus and Magdalena va Loo (Rembrandt’s son and his wife), Daniel Levi Miquel de Barrios and Abigaël de Pina (the Amsterdam poet and his wife, a Jewish couple), or even Bartholomeus Vaillant and Elisabeth van Swanenburg (the ancestors of Christiaan Everhard Vaillant, known as the first owner of this work).

Chiaroscuro / Form and Opulence: Rembrandt’s treatment of light and dark, though the method of chiaroscuro, conveys volume and tri-dimensionality to the elegance of the details, especially visible in the jewelry, which recall the Byzantine extravagant style.

Historical Portrait (between fiction and reality): Many characteristics of the painting indicate a specific portraiture, a historical portrait/painting, or a portrait historié, very common during the Dutch Golden Age, in the 17th century. These particular characteristics are the large dimensions of the painting, the absence of a setting in the dark, and an intimate focus on the couple, indicated by the light, as they are dressed in opulent clothing, unlike their everyday life. Although the subject matter might be biblical, the fact Rembrandt chose to depict the scene in a portrait style says a lot about the Golden Dutch era.

Geometrical Impact: horizontally-oriented canvas,

Reduced Yet Rich Colour: Rembrandt’s colour palette becomes brighter with earthy undertones as he moves towards his final years, and this is an example of exquise colouring of gold and scarlet red. The abrupt manner in which the artist gives life to colour in the same way he lets it die, depending if they are reaching the light or moving into darkness, contribute to the atmosphere of the painting.

Surface Texture / Thick Impastos: Rembrandt has a unique way of adding texture to his works with exceptional freedom, applying paint in thick blotches, and scratching into it with the butt end of his paintbrush, to bring life to the exquisit fabrics, hair and skin. Examples of this can be seen in the skirt’s pleats and in the delicate pearls and golden rings, worn by the woman, a sculptural characteristic which is replicated in the shimmering clothing of the man. The artist counterposes the soft and smooth areas of thinly applied paint with the textured areas of thickly applied impasto.

Creative Process: A specific drawing created previously, in a private collection in the United States, supports the subject which is currently accepted. This drawing is considered to be a study for this composition as it is similar in design, showing discernible gestures such as the position of the man’s hand over the woman’s bosom. On the other hand, the artist removed the spying Abimelech who was a window in the top right corner, which was barely sketched in the initial drawing, and turned his focus to the couple instead, turning the viewer into the spying king intruding in this intimate moment. There is also reason to believe Rembrandt based his sketch in a print of Sisto Badalocchio, from 1607, which was inspired by Raphael fresco in the Vatican, created in the early 16th century.

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painting details

related works

Artist: Sisto Badalocchio
Title: Isaac and Rebecca Spied upon by Abimelech (from a series of etchings of Biblical scenes)
Date: 1607
Medium: Etching
Size: 13.1 × 17.8 cm
Location: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA

Artist: Raphael
Title: Isaac and Rebecca Spied upon by Abimelech
Date: 1518-1519
Medium: Fresco
Size: unknown
Location: Raphael Loggia, Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican, Italy

Artist: Rembrandt
Title: The Girl in a Picture Frame (The Jewish Bride).
Date: 1641
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 105.5 x 76 cm
Location: Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland