Nov 272007

Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride displays several features that critics generally recognize as typical of the artist’s domestic scenes: a display of genuine, candid emotion, an appreciation for intimacy, and an overall humanistic representation. A combination of these can be often found in Rembrandt’s paintings of his closest kin.

The background is almost blank, showing only a few architectural shapes, as well as a pot with a plant. The source of light is unclear but appears to be artificial and warm — perhaps a few candles above the figures; light is reflected from the richly adorned golden garments of the groom (some interpretations suggest the male is the girl’s father) and of the bride, whose own red gown not only emphasizes the celebratory nature of the event, but also hints at its life-affirming meaning.

The faces of the couple seem to glow by themselves: Rembrandt uses light beyond its painterly purpose, as a tool that describes the inner state of the protagonists. Light travels from above, first sculpting and penetrating their faces, and then bounces back, impregnated with the story of the young man and the woman.

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The Jewish Bride, circa 1666
Rembrandt Van Rijn
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The gestures of the couple reaffirm what their features express. Particularly charming is the detail that the groom and the bride don’t look directly into each other’s eyes: their soft gazes, the girl’s blush, and spontaneous movements reveal shyness and slight embarrassment that the man tries to dispel in a somewhat awkward, though loving embrace. These newlywed appear to look inside themselves, as if wishing to savor the moment and imprint it into their memories.

The composition is fairly classical in its triangular pyramid shape. The hands of the actors constitute the most physically animated part of the scene and evince complex symmetry; these body parts play an ornamental compositional role, decorating the otherwise simplified, static event. The garments, though rich and festive, cannot vie with the subtlety and subdued richness of the facial expressions and, in fact, seem to sit uncomfortably on the wearers.

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The Jewish Bride
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A realistic, painterly display of light and shadow, a less rigid (even if static) composition, and a general shift towards intimacy and individualization — all these stand principally against the grand spiritual generalizations of the Renaissance, which are all but abandoned in this piece. In choosing to depict a Jewish rather than Christian bride — Judaism being much more pragmatic and down-to-earth in matters of matrimony — Rembrandt found the perfect theme to express his own vision of Baroque painterly principles.

*this article has been edited at a later date

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