JEWS IN THE SYNAGOGUE (or “Pharisees in the Temple”)

Rembrandt Van Rijn
JEWS IN THE SYNAGOGUE (or “Pharisees in the Temple”)
Etching
1648

An original Rembrandt Van Rijn Etching.

1648

Original etching and drypoint printed in black ink on laid paper.

Signed and dated in the plate upper center Remrandt.f. 1648.

A strong 19th century impression of Bartsch’s third and final state, Usticke’s fifth state of seven, New Hollstein’s seventh state of nine, printed after the addition of the “x” on the side of the stair in the central foreground, probably printed by H.L. Basan circa 1808.

Catalog: Bartsch 126 iii/iii; Hind 234; Biorklund-Barnard 48-D; Usticke 126 v/vii; New Hollstein 242 vii/ix.

Platemark: 2 13/16 x 5 inches Sheet size: 3 5/16 x 5 9/16 inches

“Jews in the Synagogue” is one of Rembrandt’s most famous images presumed to depict the daily life of Amsterdam’s Jews. The earliest title we have for it, however, identifies it not as a scene from contemporary Jewish life but as a biblical image, “Pharisees in the Temple.” The title is recorded in the 1679 inventory of Clement de Jonghe’s estate, which included seventy-four of Rembrandt’s copperplates and constitutes the earliest substantive list of the artist’s prints. Only in Valerius Röver’s manuscript catalogue of 1731, the earliest of its kind, did “Jews in the Synagogue” acquire its present title, suggesting a genre scene observed from life.

Yet the imposing structure Rembrandt portrays as the backdrop to the assembled figures does not correspond to the exterior of the synagogues of Amsterdam, or to any synagogue architecture. Rembrandt must have etched the scene from his imagination since there was no large synagogue in Amsterdam before 1670. Moreover, while the long cloaks, elaborate fur hats, berets, and untrimmed beards of the men resemble elements of traditional Ashkenazi appearance, a seated man wears an anomalous and decidedly exotic turban. As Clement de Jonghe’s interpretation suggests, Rembrandt’s image probably lies ambiguously astride the boundry between history and genre, drawing on an implicit parallel between contemporary and biblical Jews.