This richly detailed study reconceptualizes a striking but enigmatic moment in Rembrandt's art from the 1650s--one of the artist's most prolific and creative periods. Michael Zell identifies a significant theological shift in Rembrandt's use of religious imagery and interprets this shift in light of the unique religious and social conditions of seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Rembrandt's biblical art has generally been regarded as the embodiment of a Protestant aesthetic. By looking closely at the artist's relationship with his patron Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel and the ideas of a group of "philosemitic" Protestants with whom the rabbi was engaged in an apologetic dialogue, Zell deepens and complicates our understanding of Rembrandt's sacred art from this period.
List of Illustrations
1. Amsterdam Sephardi Jews as Patrons and Collectors of Art
2. Becoming Art: Images of Amsterdam Jewry
3. Rembrandt's Encounter with Menasseh ben Israel: Defining the Rabbi's Status in the Christian World
4. Encountering Difference: Rembrandt's Presentation in the Dark Manner
5. Christian History in Print: Renewing the Covenant
6. Reforming the Chronicle of Patriarchal History
Michael Zell is Assistant Professor of Art History at Boston University.
"Michael Zell offers a nuanced, richly documented account of Rembrandt as master of pictorial exegesis, whose biblical works of the 1650s reflect intensively on the relation between law and grace, Temple and Gospel, the Old and New Covenants. Showing how Rembrandt applied the discursive practices of philosemitic theologians engaged in millenarian dialogue with the great Jewish apologist Menasseh ben Israel, Zell brilliantly expounds a series of paintings and prints such as Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph and The Presentation of Christ in the Temple in the Dark Manner. By calling attention to the artist's singular application of exegetical tools-for example, his use of Protestant typology to discern Christological meanings in patriarchal history-Zell demonstrates how these images constitute a visual hermeneutics."—Walter S. Melion, author of Shaping the Netherlandish Canon: Karel Van Mander's Schilder-Boeck
"A sensitive, well-researched study of a fascinating and dramatic subject. Zell persuasively links Rembrandt's late biblical representations to the ambivalent relations between Protestants and Jews in his age, arguing, on the basis of close readings of the works themselves, that the concerns of Christian messianism influenced Rembrandt's artistic choices."—Gary Schwartz, author of Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings
"The best scholars often work at the boundary between disciplines. This is the case for Michael Zell, who makes a distinct contribution to the history of religion as well as to the history of art. He shows how Rembrandt's interpretation of the Bible was permeated by the writings of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel as well as by those of courageous intellectuals within the Reformed Church who sought a common ground with the Jews and the Portuguese community of conversos. Zell's meticulous research throws a strong light on this little-known patch of seventeenth-century history."—John Michael Montias, author of Vermeer and His Milieu: A Web of Social History