It’s almost worth going to see the latest exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace, just to see Rembrandt’s A Rabbi with a Cap. Dated 1635, this fascinating painting was acquired by King George III in 1762, as part of the fabulous collection of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice.
I don’t know who gave the portrait this title but, of course, it is a sort of tautology. All male Jews are required to wear a head covering and no rabbi would be seen without a cap. Elsewhere it is entitled Man in an Exotic Costume.
If you look closely, you can see that the rabbi is wearing a jewelled breast plate suspended by a chain around his neck. This is reminiscent of the breast plate (Hoshen) which, according to the book of Exodus, was worn by the High Priest in the Temple. Embedded in those breast plates would have been 12 different precious or semi-precious stones labelled with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the Talmud, the wearing of the Hoshen is said to atone for the sin of errors in judgment on the part of the Children of Israel.
The portrait is painted on the rare hardwood, Cordia, named in honour of the German botanist and pharmacist, Valerius Cordus (1515-1544). The wood was an early export, coming from Mexico and Central/South America.
There has been doubt at times about whether the portrait was painted by Rembrandt, who lived in or near the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, but presently it is attributed to him and the signature is considered to be original.
And thanks to all those generous people who put otherwise hard to find information on the Web, often in advertisement -free sites so they get no financial reward – only the glow from doing good!!
Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free.
‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.
Woman in a White Coat