Inspiring Pictures for Writers – Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride
I love this painting. It’s possible to lose yourself in the tender and complex emotions expressed on the faces. This is only oil and pigment and egg (or whatever painters used in the 17th century), but look at what Rembrandt did with it. No fireworks. No drama. Just a very quiet and private moment captured forever. It is the picture I use most often in class because it is so rich in possibilities.
I first saw it many, many years ago in the Rijksjmuseum in Amsterdam. At that time it was in an ante chamber as a kind of introduction to the star exhibit, The Night Watch. I know the galleries have been extensively redesigned over the last decade so I hope it’s no longer playing second fiddle to Rembrandt’s huge painting of the militia: it justifies its own space so we can have a quiet moment with it.
What’s it all about?
The short answer is no one knows for certain. It got the title Jewish Bride in the early 19th century when a Dutch art dealer described it as a Jewish father giving a necklace to a daughter to her on wedding day.
Most art historians now think it is a Bible painting and the two models have been dressed up to represent Isaac and Rebecca. ( If your Old Testament knowledge is a little rusty, Isaac was the son Abraham was asked to sacrifice and his marraige to the beautiful Rebecca was arranged. They didn’t meet until their wedding day, and yes, I had to look that up.)
Whatever the story one thing is certain, they haven’t just met. There are strong emotional ties binding them together, but I think there is ambivalence as well. While researching this post, I discovered that Isaac and Rebecca were very much in love, but didn’t have any children for the first 20 years of their marriage. That would have been a heartbreak and a shame for both of them, although the woman would have been blamed, and then – thanks to prayer – she conceives twins: Esau and Jacob.
Maybe the picture captures the moment when Rebecca can feel the twins move – the quickening – and knows for certain that she will give birth to two babies. Childbirth was dangerous for any woman, but twins for an older mother must have meant that the odds were not in her favour. Could that account for the expressions on their faces?
I haven’t a clue, but I do think there is a love story to tell…