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.