The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt
Interpretation of Dutch Baroque Biblical Portrait of Isaac and Rebecca

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The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt
The Jewish Bride
By Rembrandt.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

The Jewish Bride (1665)


Interpretation/Meaning of The Jewish Bride
Analysis of Other paintings by Rembrandt


Artist: Rembrandt (1606-69)
Medium: Oil painting
Genre: Portrait art
Movement: Dutch Baroque
Location: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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Interpretation of The Jewish Bride

This is another of Rembrandt's great Baroque portraits which he completed during his last years. Like The Suicide of Lucretia (c.1666, Minneapolis Institute of Arts), it exemplifies the artist's genius for expressing human emotion on canvas, and is rightly considered to be one of the greatest portrait paintings of his final period. The painting acquired its current name during the early 19th century, when a Dutch art dealer described the subject as that of a Jewish father giving a necklace to his daughter on her wedding day. Today, while the identities of the two people remain obscure, most art historians believe them to be Isaac and his wife Rebecca from the Old Testament. A highlight of Dutch 17th century painting from the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the picture is one of the few real expressions of love created by Dutch Realist artists during the Baroque era.




As in the case of the earlier Night Watch (1642), The Jewish Bride (Het Joodse bruidje) is another misnamed masterpiece which would be insensitive to rename. Of course, the painting does not represent an authentic illustration of a Jewish bride and bridegroom from the Bible so much as a romantic, exotic portrayal of a cultural rite which was outside the experience of a predominantly Christian society.

Whether or not he intended it as a straightforward piece of Biblical art, there is no doubt however, that Rembrandt was depicting an intimate relationship between his two subjects. The man places his hand on the woman's bosom, while she moves instinctively to protect her modesty, in keeping with the new aesthetics of Protestant Reformation Art (c.1520-1700). Yet both show every sign of tenderness towards each other, so this is hardly a typical seduction scene (a usual enough topic in Dutch Realist genre painting).


As mentioned above, the theme most widely accepted by modern scholars is Isaac embracing his wife Rebecca while being spied on by Abimelech (Genesis Chapter XXVI), a scene which Rembrandt had previously represented in a drawing. To summarize the Biblical narrative, Isaac (who was staying in the land of the Philistines) passes off Rebecca as his sister. One day, Abimelech, the Philistine King observes the couple making love in secret and guesses the truth. He reproves Isaac for the decption, chiding him that any man might have lain with Rebecca in all innocence, unaware of her married status, and would thus have brought dishonour on himself and his people. Whether Rembrandt saw any similarities between his Biblical couple and himself and Hendrickje, is not known. In all probability he was simply returning to his first love, namely painting Bible stories.

As an artist, Rembrandt himself was no stranger to voyeurism - see Susanna Surprised by the Elders (1647, Gemaldergalerie, Berlin), Bathsheba Holding King David's Letter (1654, Louvre, Paris), A Woman Bathing (1654, National Gallery, London), and Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1653, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) - but in this painting he thrusts it into the background. The couple could scarcely be more covered up and they embrace each other almost chastely.


In any event, the work is one of Rembrandt's tenderest religious paintings - at once intimate and serene. As so often in his late period the forms are broad yet flattened, providing a screen on which countless overlapping brushstrokes of gold and scarlet are laid, the colours increasing or dying away in intensity as they move into or out of the light. Unusually, Rembrandt's brilliance of colour increases significantly during his final years - though not in all his works, see the monochrome Suicide of Lucretia, for instance - see in particular, his fiery reds, golden yellows, delicate blues and olives, and rich deep blacks, comparable with Venetian Renaissance painting.

But there is more. Look at the man's left hand: see how gently it rests on the woman's shoulder. Even his right hand is placed on her bosom with affection rather than lust. There is a lightness of physical contact between the pair which suggests a deep loving innocence. Notice also the expressiveness of the visible human elements - the faces and hands - compared to the bulk and immobility of their robes and drapery. See how Rembrandt's chiaroscuro makes everything seem more three-dimensional, and how the exquisite rendering of Rebecca's necklace, bracelets and rings adds a type of Byzantine opulence to the whole.

Despite the romance and love, however, this is not an entirely happy picture. Perhaps because Rembrandt himself was experiencing a certain physical strain in his work and life. Isaac has quite modest expectations in his eyes, as if he is uncertain what the future holds, while Rebecca appears thoughtful, almost distracted. In short, this is a masterclass in psychological portraiture, and is yet another reminder why Rembrandt is considered by many to rank among the best portrait artists, and is probably one of the best artists of all time.



Analysis of Other Paintings by Rembrandt

Stories from the Bible was one of Rembrandt's favourite genres. Other famous examples of his religious art include: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1631, Mauritshuis, The Hague); Belshazzar's Feast (c.1636, National Gallery, London); The Entombment of Christ (1635, University of Glasgow); Noli me Tangere (1638, Buckingham Palace, London); Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1644, National, London); Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1656, Kassel); and others.

For more analysis, see:

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) Mauritshuis, The Hague

Portrait of Jan Six (1654) The Six Collection, Amsterdam

The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1661) Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

The Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild (The Staalmeesters) (1662)

Return of the Prodigal Son (1668) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

• For more about Biblical portraiture, see our main index: Homepage.

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