The Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently showing Rembrandt and the face of Jesus. Menachem Wecker in the Forward this week points out that Rembrandt uses a Jewish model, a real person, for various paintings of Jesus now brought together for the exhibit. The exhibit closes on October 30th.
In a great catalog essay, “Testing Tradition Against Nature: Rembrandt’s Radical New Image of Jesus,” Lloyd DeWitt, associate curator of European painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, traces the history of representations of Jesus leading up to Rembrandt’s series of seven paintings of Jesus, brought together for the first time in this show. Where Jesus had formerly been typically presented in a stylized manner, with a golden mane and European features, Rembrandt chose to present a decidedly Semitic Jesus.
Rembrandt’s connection with the 17th century Dutch Jewish community is not unknown. Not only did he live in the Jewish quarter, but one of the painter’s patrons and friends was Manoel Dias Soeiro (Menasseh ben Israel). In his book, “Reframing Rembrandt: Jews and the Christian Image in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam,” Michael Zell, associate professor of art history at Boston University, has shown that Menasseh’s biblical interpretations influenced Rembrandt’s paintings, particularly the Hebrew inscription in “Belshazzar’s Feast.”
The Philadelphia exhibit, propelled by DeWitt’s essay, makes a compelling case for a Jewish model for Jesus.