Did Rembrandt have more sympathy for Jews and Judaism than most of his contemporaries? This has long been taken for granted, and his paintings of Old Testament subjects and portraits of Jews have been discussed in this light. Since 1984, Schwartz has been questioning this assumption. Here he presents new evidence that Rembrandt cooperated in attaching anti-Semitic meaning to his work.
On March 25, 2006 I published a column that has led to some controversy, controversy to which I now hope to put an end. The abstract reads thus:
A friend of Rembrandt’s wrote four poems on The hundred-guilder print. Only two of them, sweet thoughts on the goodness of Christ, are cited in the literature. The third one, a concise statement of classical Christian anti-Judaism, has been repressed in the Rembrandt literature. Schwartz insists that we acknowledge that Rembrandt shared the same attitudes toward the Jews of all his contemporaries and that he was not sympathetic to Judaism.
The impression of the immortal Hundred-guilder print on which the poem was penned is in the Bibliothèque de France.
Rembrandt, Christ among the sick, allowing the children to come to him:
“The hundred-guilder print,” ca. 1649. Bartsch 74 ii(2), 27.8 x 38.8 cm
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France. Impression on a larger sheet of paper, with handwritten poems by H.F. Waterloos
The third poem reads thus, in extended translation:
The Messiah performed a thousand miracles for the benefit and salvation of the Jews. He did this out of goodness, in a very different spirit than the vengeance of the God worshipped by the Jews. How did they respond? Alas, by crucifying the one who was sent to them, God’s son. The blood of the innocent Lord remains on their hands. By killing him they forfeited the right to be called his people. We Christians are now the people of God, not the Jews.
The poet who wrote always signed his work H. F. Waterloos (d. 1664); in the literature he is sometimes called Herman Frederik, sometimes Hendrick Frederik. He was a pious man who according to his fellow poet Jan Vos sometimes drank too much, and who as a ziekentrooster (comforter of the sick) served the spiritual and psychological needs of the ailing.
Esteemed colleagues have taken issue with my assumption that the poem reflects Rembrandt’s attitude toward the Jews. Lloyd De Witt dismisses the link in these words: “… there is no evidence that Rembrandt knew Waterloos, as Schwartz suggests.” There is in fact more than sufficient evidence to prove that Rembrandt knew Waterloos. In a volume of poetry published in 1660, Hollantsche Parnas, Rembrandt’s lifelong friend Jeremias de Decker dedicated to Waterloos a poem on a Rembrandt painting of Christ appearing to the Magdalene (a subject painted by Rembrandt in 1638 and 1651), and Waterloos a poem on a drawn or painted portrait of de Decker by Rembrandt.
Hollantsche Parnas, of verscheide gedichten…, ed. T.v. Domselaer, eerste deel
Amsterdam (Jacob Lescaille) 1660
The poem is actually addressed by Waterloos to Rembrandt, and closes with the stereotypical but nonetheless personal sentiment:
And so my verse lives in your comely painting,
And your draftsmanship through my poetry.
Entwined personal links of this kind, between Waterloos, de Decker and Rembrandt (Jeremias’s brother David de Decker is also in this circle), are at the very heart of friendship ties in Rembrandt’s world. Lloyd De Witt was I am afraid so unwilling to believe that Rembrandt would have shared the anti-Judaism of his contemporaries that he uncharacteristically averted his gaze from the historical record.
Stephanie Dickey, who has done more and more penetrating research than anyone on Waterloos, has better founded objections:
In his recent monograph on Rembrandt [Rembrandt’s universe, 2006, where I further expanded on the column; GS], Gary Schwartz imputes anti-Semitic sentiment to a passage of the poem in which Waterloos contrasts the Pharisees’ cruel treatment of Jesus with the adoration felt for him by modern Christians. According to Schwartz, this suggests that Rembrandt himself expressed anti-Semitic views in the print. However, Waterloos’ poem was never engraved on Rembrandt’s copperplate. It is one of a number of highly personal responses to Rembrandt’s work, responses whose nature and form were outside the artist’s control. Whether Rembrandt knew that his imagery would provoke such a response remains moot.
To say that I “impute” anti-Semitic sentiment to a poem with the lines “The blood of the innocent Lord remains on their hands. By killing him they forfeited the right to be called his people” does not seem to me the mot juste. As the following line makes clearer – “We Christians are now the people of God, not the Jews” – what we have is an expression not of adoration for Jesus but of replacement theology, a conviction that the Jews disqualified themselves from salvation, making way for Christians to take their place in the grace of God. I understand that it is difficult for an ethical Christian to accept the belief that the salvation of Christians depends on the self-degradation of the Jews, but that is what is said in the poem.
Dickey’s following argument, I must admit, I long found difficult to refute. Indeed, the plate of the Hundred-guilder print leaves no room below the image for further inscriptions. However, I have now come across an explanation for the writing and form of the poem in relation to the image that accounts for this seeming discrepancy. It also shows that the poem was not written as a personal response at all, but was intended for publication. It also makes Rembrandt’s involvement in the writing of Waterloos’s poem less moot. Moreover, and sadly so, the evidence on which it is based includes another poem on a New Testament Rembrandt etching that is even more virulently anti-Semitic than the one on the Hundred-guilder print.
The Hundred-guilder print was completed in 1649. In 1650 a new medium for the publishing of Biblical prints came into being in which images by Rembrandt played a role from the start. This was the phenomenon of the Bible shot through with royal-size prints. Royal size was a paper format of about 40-50 centimeters high by 50-60 wide. Prints of this kind lent themselves to various uses, one of them being insertion in a States Bible in folio format. The earliest known example of the kind is a Bible printed by Theunis Jacobsz Lootsman in Amsterdam in 1643 to which in or about 1650 125 engravings were added, inserted throughout the book. Two of those engravings were modified copies after Rembrandt.
Rembrandt, Christ before Pilate, etching, 54.9 x 44.7 cm, Bartsch 77 ii(5), dated 1635 and 1636
Anonymous engraver after Rembrandt, Christ before Pilate, engraving, 41.8 x 51 cm, 1650 at the latest
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
The one to which I would like to draw attention was a copy in reverse after Rembrandt’s Christ before Pilate of 1635, with the publisher’s imprint of Cornelis Dankerts (1604-56). The copyist has extracted the major details from the etching, which is in a vertical format, and rearranged them in the horizontal shape required for insertion as a double spread in a standing Bible. The engraved image is in mirror image to the etching, because no care was taken to reverse directions for printing.
What strikes me about the new constellation of Christ before Pilate is the resemblance of its caption to that on the Waterloos impression of the Hundred-guilder print. Juxtaposing the two, this is what we see:
To me, this explains the function of Waterloos’s rhyme. He wrote it to serve as the caption not to Rembrandt’s etching but to a proposed but never executed engraved copy of the Hundred-guilder print, for use in the various royal-size Bible print applications.
Of particular interest in the context of the debate I initiated in 1984 is the rhyme beneath Christ before Pilate. In my translation (for the Latin quatrain via Loekie Schwartz’s Dutch translation), it reads:
You blind mob, behold the pitiable picture of sorrow,
How his sacred skin is torn open by miscreants,
His knees knocking, his tread faltering,
His head bleeding from the thorns pressed into it. What crime has he committed to merit this?
The Jewish people, incited and enflamed by their bloodthirsty scribes,
When Pilate asked them
If they wished Barabbas or Christ to be released,
Sabotaged their own supreme salvation on behalf of a murderer.
The judge is reluctant to thwart innocence,
[But] the heated crowd shouts louder than loud: Crucify Him.
His blood be upon us, and on our children:
A sentence that God blissfully carried out on them.
Thus does the world condemn so often those deserving to live
And relieves the nastiest villains of all fear and need.
And like Pilate, to win the favor of the people,
Delivers a pious Christian, innocent, to death.
The single line that occurs in both captions, in the third verse of both, is the second deadliest: “The blood of the innocent Lord remains on their hands” and “Let his blood be upon us, and on our children.” The second deadliest, because the fourth line in the third verse under Christ before Pilate is worse: “A sentence that God blissfully carried out on them.” This is addressed not to the Jews of the time of Jesus but those of the writer’s own day. In 1650 the sentence that God blissfully carried out on the Jews was being felt in Amsterdam, as thousands of Ashkenazi refugees from the massacres of the Khmelnytsky uprising in Poland sought – and found, let that be stated – refuge there.
Why look for another author for the caption on the Dankerts engraving of Christ before Pilate than H. F. Waterloos? And from whom will Waterloos have acquired, shortly after its creation, an impression of the Hundred-guilder print on a sheet of paper with room beneath the image for an inscription on the model of a royal-size engraving? There was only one source: Rembrandt.
© Gary Schwartz 2019. Published on the Schwartzlist on 12 September 2019
28 December 2019: In the comments below, as well as in the publications of Lloyd De Witt and Stephanie Dickey, doubt is often expressed about the relevance of H.F. Waterloos’s poem to the meaning of the Hundred-guilder print. Having just come across the opinion in the matter of Joos Bruyn, I would like to bring it in as evidence that the poem was fully accepted by Rembrandt specialists as a reflection of Rembrandt’s intentions as long as they limited their quotations to the first two verses.
For our understanding of the composition we dispose over a precious document that is nothing less than an iconographic commentary by someone who was so close to the artist that we may regard it as authentic. The person concerned was the Reformed cantor, invalid comforter and Sunday poet H.F. Waterloos, concerning whom we know among other things that Rembrandt painted a Noli me tangere for him and that Rembrandt and he had a number of friends in common.
Bruyn then goes on to quote the second quatrain as an explanation of Rembrandt’s choice of motifs. He knew the entire poem, but ignores the third quatrain. He concludes that the print attests to “Rembrandt’s self-aware relation to the past and with a tradition in which he found the basis for his deeply humane view of the Bible.”
J. Bruyn, Rembrandt’s keuze van Bijbelse onderwerpen, Kunsthistorisch Instituut der Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, 1959, pp. 21-22. Bruyn1958RembrandtsKeuzePp21-22
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The caption beneath Christ before Pilate reads:
E C C E H O M O Iohan. XIX. Cap.
Adspice caeca cohors miserabile schema doloris
Vtsacra verberibus sit lacerata cutis
Genua labant tilubant gressus, peracuta cruentat
Spina caput meruit quae scelus ecce tuum.
Het Iootsche Volck door hun bloetdorstige Schrijfgeleerden
Beweecht en opgeruijt, wanneer Pilatus haer
Vraecht of zij Barrabam, of Christum vrij begeerden.
Wracken hun opperst heyl om eenen Moordenaer.
Den Rechter is beswaert d’onnoselheÿt te hindren,
Het opgemaekt geritt, roept Cruijsthem, overluÿt.
Zijn bloet com ouer ons, en ouer onse kindren:
Welck ordeel Godt aen hun ook heerlijk voerden uÿt.
Soo doemt de werelt vaek die waerdich waer te leven
En helpt den boosten Schelm uÿt alle vrees en noot
En als Pilatus om de gonst des vollickx geuen
Een vroome christen ziel onschuldig aende doot.
The engravings in the first royal-size States Bible known were published by Frans Laurentius and M.J. Roos in 2012 in Met veele schoone Figueren verçiert: een bijzondere Bijbel, Middelburg/IJmuiden 2012. Had I paid better attention to it when a copy was presented to me by my friend the distinguished art dealer Frans Laurentius, I could have made this discovery seven years ago. The Bible was then in his possession; it has since been acquired by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
One of my dearest friends in art history is Stephanie Dickey, the following outstanding publications by whom are quoted above: Rembrandt: portraits in print, Amsterdam and Philadelphia (John Benjamins) 2004; “Inscriptions and the reception of Rembrandt’s etchings,” in M. Roscam Abbing, ed., Rembrandt 2006: essays, Leiden (Foleor) 2006, pp. 137-54. “Rethinking Rembrandt’s Renaissance,” in Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 21 (2007), pp. 1-22
Concerning royal-size Bible prints, a stepchild of print history, see Jan van der Waals, exhib. cat. Prenten in de Gouden Eeuw: van kunst tot kastpapier, Rotterdam (Museum Boymans van Beuningen [the former spelling of the museum name]) 2006, p. 161, and Peter van der Coelen, “Royal-size Bible prints,” Print Quarterly 33 (2016), pp. 443-46
No time for anything more. From 14 to 22 September I will be in Moscow and St. Petersburg for work on an exhibition I am curating for the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center and the Hermitage.