Weekly musings on the arts and current events.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Young Jew as Christ
Or, Christ as a young Jew, if you prefer. Rembrandt lived in the Jodenbreestraat, a part of Amsterdam where Jews were settling. He befriended his neighbors and, despite the Jewish injunction against the making of graven images, he got them to sit for him. Perhaps he thought the Jews were physionomically closer than the Dutch to the people of the Bible.
For example, his rendering of Jacob on his death bed looks much like an elderly Chasid we might see walking to shul in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles: long beard, aquiline nose, papery skin, tired eyes.
Did the young Jew who sat for this portrait know that he was modeling for Christ? I have no idea. But I think it's fair to say that this Jesus is less ethereal and more incisive than most that we see hanging in churches--a teller of parables and a turner-over-of-money-changers'-tables. But who was this man really? A laborer with a young wife? An apprentice diamond cutter? A student who tutored rich men's children to make ends meet? A poet? We'll never know him for himself, but he brings to the role of Jesus a vibrancy, even an athleticism, that we seldom see in religious art. Rembrandt, the lover-of-women and spender-of-money, is telling us that if God did become flesh, he must have been a most engaging man.