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The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665

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What is immediately striking about this painting is how coarsely it is painted. You have to take distance from some parts in order to see what exactly is represented.

Rembrandt painted The Jewish Bride (ca. 1665) late in his career, at a stage when he freed himself from all convention. He moulded his paint, scratched in it with his brush handle and smeared it with a palette knife like a rough and ready oaf. Two hundred years later, Vincent van Gogh was moved by the intimacy of the painting, which shows a loving moment between a man and a woman. It makes us feel as though we are secretly witnessing a very personal moment that is actually none of our business.

Exotic attire

We see a couple, with the man touching the woman lovingly. They are dressed in exotic clothes from a different period to that of Rembrandt. The couple are absorbed in the moment and in one another. We now know that the painting is a depiction of the biblical story of the married couple Isaac and Rebecca. They go to live in a foreign country, where Isaac pretends to be Rebecca’s brother, so that he will not be killed and his beautiful wife will not fall into the hands of soldiers.

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Caught by the king

King Abimelech finds out Isaac’s lie when he sees the intimate scene from his window. Painters of this scene usually depicted the king spying in the background, so that the viewer sees the whole scene. Rembrandt gives this role of spy to us, the viewers. We see the couple from close up, but they appear not to notice us.

Inspiration for Van Gogh

When Vincent van Gogh sat in front of The Jewish Bride (ca. 1665) at the opening of the Rijksmuseum in 1885, he did not want to leave. He said in a letter that he would have given ten years of his life just to stay sitting in front of the painting for two weeks. Van Gogh was moved by the warmth and intimacy of the work. He makes no comment whatever on the thick daubs of paint that Rembrandt so characteristically smeared on the canvas. This is quite remarkable, given that it was the use of thick daubs of paint that was to make Van Gogh himself so famous, hundreds of years later.

From close up, it looks messy, but if you step back a bit the painting comes to life

The palette knife as paintbrush

Rembrandt was famous in his own day and was sometimes maligned for his coarse style. In The Jewish Bride (ca. 1665), he crosses all the boundaries. Like some artists before him, he moulded his paint, but Rembrandt goes even further. Here, he has applied daubs of paint to depict Isaac’s wide, golden sleeve. He also scratched in the wet paint with the handle of his paintbrush or with a stylus. As if that wasn’t enough, he also used a palette knife. We can see the knife marks in Isaac’s cape, the bottom of his sleeve and the middle of Rebecca’s dress.

  • Isaac’s sleeve

    From a distance, the daubs of paint take on the form of real clothing.

  • Vincent van Gogh

    Much later, Vincent van Gogh was to become famed for his coarse brushstrokes, like those of Rembrandt. In his letters about The Jewish Bride, however, he talks only about the intimacy of the work.

  • Spying

    In portraying this scene, most artists usually painted the king spying in the background. Rembrandt, however, makes his viewers the spies.

Looking through a telephoto lens

Despite these coarse techniques, Vincent van Gogh was right: people looking at the work immediately sense that it is about intimacy. We are allowed to peep over Rembrandt’s shoulder at a loving moment, as if we are looking through a telephoto lens. Rembrandt did this two hundred years before photography was invented. Maybe this is why the work still looks so modern to us today.

Over het schilderij

  • The Jewish Bride, ca. 1665 - 1669
  • Oil on Canvas, 121.5 x 166.5 cm
  • Permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum
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