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
Responses in the Reply box below (these will be viewed by all visitors to the site) or personally to Gary.Schwartz@xs4all.nl are always appreciated and will be answered.
So will donations.
Your donations help defray the costs of the Schwartzlist and encourage Gary Schwartz to write more columns.
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.
26 thoughts on “375 Another third poem on Rembrandt Jews”
No mention of the book I did with Shelley, which insists on the anti-Jewish sentiment of the Passion images consistently and across many works? You are not alone in your reading–but we do take the Calvinist viewpoint seriously that the Old Testament was a partial revelation, so that the apparent contradiction does not in fact pertain. See 272f and 374 for Waterloos in particular, Larry
Thanks for reacting, Larry. In this column I could not give a general view of the question. I was out to introduce as pointedly and succinctly as I could this new piece of evidence. The publications I cite are only those I quoted. But I’m happy to recommend (once more) your and Shelley’s authoritative Rembrandt’s faith.
Thank you, Gary, for your thoughtful engagement with my analysis.
I agree that Rembrandt most likely was less sympathetic to Judaism than romantic-era writers liked to think. However, he did accept commissions from Jewish patrons (as well as Catholics, Mennonites, Calvinists, and Remonstrants). Overall, I don’t think his work reflects a single doctrinal position — I think he was always on the lookout for a good story and the best way to bring it to life. I agree that he must have known Waterloos, and indeed it was likely Rembrandt who gave Waterloos the impression of the ‘Hundred Guilder’ on which the poem is written, as a gesture of friendship, but that does not necessarily mean Rembrandt agreed with all of Waterloos’ ideas, or knew what Waterloos was going to write. (BTW, as I have written, I see the inscription not as four poems but as one poem in four stanzas [quatrains], in which the writer’s response evolves meditatively.) And even if Waterloos’ poem was planned to be inscribed on a copy, that is still a project that took place outside of Rembrandt’s control.
In my experience, poetic glosses on works of art, especially when written after the fact, can only be taken to reflect the viewpoint of the writer (and/or publisher), not the artist. This can even be true for inscriptions engraved on prints. There are many cases where a plate passed from one publisher to another who changed the inscription and/or aspects of the image, for instance to recast a Catholic Biblical image for a Mennonite audience (e.g., Jan Philips Schabaelje’s picture Bible of 1646, as discussed by Visser, Schuckman, Stronks). Sometimes when prints were copied the meaning was misconstrued or shifted along the way (for instance, Wenzel Hollar transformed Van Vliet’s figure study of Rembrandt’s “Judas” into a “Weeping Heraclitus”). Several of Rembrandt’s prints were copied, and the copies were adapted for other uses, such as book illustrations. This process took place after the work had left the artist’s hands. Even when the people involved were personally known to the artist, it does not mean that he necessarily cooperated in their activities.
In short, my issue is not so much with Rembrandt’s relationship to Judaism as with the nature of the evidence. Independent adaptations or responses to an artist’s work are just that — responses, not proof of the artist’s original intent. One thing is certain: Rembrandt will always give us plenty to think about!
I was hoping for this reaction, dear Stephanie. I’m way from my desk now and will reply later.
I’m not sure if you were finding intention in the gifting of a “sheet of paper with room beneath the image”—and not knowing enough about the larger questions you pose above—I’d only add that I imagine Rembrandt left margins around most if not all of the impressions of the print he gave out, and any cropping would have been carried out in the intervening years by whomever owned the prints. I believe there are a number of surviving impressions of the print with wider margins with no inscriptions added. The Rijksmuseum has a first state impression with wide margins all around, in any case (RP-P-OB-601).
Also, just read the Heemskerck post and enjoyed it greatly!
I’m not sure that impression was gifted, Jun. It looks to me like part of an aborted publishing project. Aren’t you impressed by that comparison of the verses in the Dankert print of 1650 and the Waterloos of about the same year?
About space around an image, I am told by Theo and Frans Laurentius that Rembrandt made maximal use of the surface on his printing press by filling it with as many plates as would fit and keeping blank paper to a minimum. In researching this, I am at a disadvantage not owning a New Hollstein catalogue of Rembrandt’s prints at $635 for each of seven volumes, and of its not being online, even for payment. I just cannot go to the Rijksmuseum or the RKD every time I want to look up what Erik Hinterding and Jaco Rutger have to say about a print and its impressions.
Apologies for a delayed response! I didn’t get any notification and am only now seeing this (and the below discussion). I did indeed find your comparison compelling! But as mentioned, I didn’t feel I knew enough about the broader debate to speak to it. For example, I wasn’t sure how commonly this kind of language accompanies images of and commentaries on the life of Christ.
I’m curious about T. & F. Laurentius’s suggestion, however. Do they mean he would print on a single large sheet of paper but ink as many plates as would fit and then print them all at once? And afterwards he would cut them apart? I’ve never heard this theory, or of any similar practices. It would be a very curious way of printing, I’d think, and cause a lot more issues if the plates were not all of the exact same thickness, which at the time I imagine was not always the case given that copperplates were generally hammered rather than rolled (Stijnman, Engaving and Etching, 141 ). It would also likely cause problems as the roller ‘jumps’ on and off each plate as it passes over it, which could cause movement of adjacent plates and the paper. I’d be very interested to read more about this practice, and what evidence there is for it.
Thank you, Stephanie, for putting your response down in words. I agree with all you say, but I do not think it applies to this case. We are not dealing with the later exploitation of an invention, which was so common at the time. Waterloos’s highly colored verses on Rembrandt’s most prominent etching were written under Rembrandt’s nose, within a year after the print was completed. I think you downplay the extent of Rembrandt’s knowledge of and probable involvement in what Waterloos was doing. Moreover, the timing of the publication of the print Bible with thar other Waterlooslike poem fortifies the impression that we are dealing with a coordinated action that would not have taken place without the cooperation of a control freak like Rembrandt.
I see that I have not succeeded in putting an end to the discussion. That’s all to the good. I suppose.
Exactly! As an artist I have many friends of many opinions, none of those ideas anti-semitic, but we never know completely those we share ideas with , nor do we need to take blame for their opinions. They alone should be judged for their thoughts. I’m not saying Rembrandt was different than many others of his time and place, ignorant prejudice, but I will not tar him for another’s words. I saw no proof that he agreed with Waterloos. Finally, as a painter I’m interested in how his paintings inspire through great painting. I’m tired of people reading strange things into paintings, placing their interpretations on top of somebodies visual art.
John, the circumstances of Rembrandt’s time are really different. When Waterloos writes that his words illuminate Rembrandt’s art and vice versa, he means it, and I think Rembrandt agreed. If you are interested, do read an excellent book by W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft, Rembrandt and the Gospel. He reconstructs the networks of Christian poets and artists who joined in conventicles for the exchange and sharing of ideas and values. Concerning Waterloos’s poem on the Hundred-guilder print, he writes (p. 90): “As he was a friend of Rembrandt, it is quite possible that he just reports what Rembrandt told him.” Unfortunately, even Visser ‘t Hooft then goes on to quote only the first two verses and does not tell his reader what Waterloos was saying of the Jews.
I agree with the last paragaph. It would be unusual – probbly dangerous – in 17th century Europe for painters to take responsibility for a position on doctrine that differed from that of Church or State. It was hard enough for philosophers & theologians. There is therefore little chance of knowing what Rembrandt’s ‘personal’ view may have been. I encountered this issue with the paintings by the supposedly ‘Stoic’ Nicolas Poussin painting the Seven Sacraments & found that with the paintings for Cassiano dal Pozzo there were — no surprises! –nothing to worry the Inquisition. With the second set in nearly every detail of iconography the paintings are close to Jesuit & Oratorian research of the late 16th to mid 17th century. Where he disagreed with his patron Paul de Chantelou was in the manner of composing a scene & the foundation of that in the treatment of affect. For Poussin that certainly depended on a study of ancient models & Greek & Roman criticism of the arts.
Thanks for making these points, Tony. There was one fraught incident between two of Rembrandt’s close contacts, Caspar van Baerle and Menasseh ben Israel. When van Baerle wrote an appreciative verse for Menasseh, seeming to express acceptance of Judaism, he was hounded for years. It contributed to the mental breakdown that finally killed him.
I posted a longish comment yesterday that seems to have got swallowed up in the ether. Trying to reconstruct it today, I come up with some new questions. As the economist and editorialist Paul Krugman likes to warn readers about some of his columns, this will be both long and rather wonky.
First, a word about Waterloos. Even a casual glance at his entry in the album amicorum of Jacob Heyblocq confirms the apparently widespread – but, so far as I know, nowhere actually verified – assumption that he himself inscribed the poem signed with his name. From there, however, things get a bit trickier.
The impression to which he added his verses belongs to the small number of the second state printed on western, rather than Asian, paper. A handful of these, described by Hinterding as “early, contrasty,” and – unlike the impressions on Asian paper – without surface tone, have paper found elsewhere in Rembrandt. But most, “generally of rather poor quality” and likewise without surface tone, have otherwise unknown paper with “several variants of the Strasbourg lily with the countermark IHS”; and “those marks and the quality of the impressions suggests that they were made later, probably posthumously.” The variants, in fact, mostly boil down to a single paper in the usual twin forms: Strasbourg lily A.f.a/IHS A.f.a and Strasbourg lily A.f.b/IHS A.f.b (I’ll refer to both in the following simply as A.f).
The paper in Waterloos’s impression does not quite match any of the above. Hinterding records an IHS countermark (A.g.) “closely related” to the twins just mentioned; he does not cite a corresponding principal mark, although the sheet by rights must also contain a Strasbourg lily, the near-inevitable of IHS. The version of IHS itself indeed comes closer to A.f. by a good margin than to anything else; and as expected, it has no counterparts anywhere in Rembrandt. So it would look as if the impression could well belong to those “made later, probably posthumously.” (Let me spare everyone further wonkiness by not going into the question of whether Waterloos had a specially provided sheet larger than those otherwise used for the print: As Jun Nakumura has already suggested, there is no reason to assume this, and no small reason to doubt it – Hinterding has provided very good arguments on Rembrandt’s margins, and sample calculations I’ve done for this communication do nothing to contradict him.) But if, as the watermark would appear to suggest, it truly does, then all of them must come from Rembrandt’s lifetime: Waterloos died in 1664. On the other hand, Rembrandt himself surely did not print at least the impressions on A.f. paper, even if still alive at the time of their production; all but certainly, they come from a time when he no longer had the plate – most likely, then, after his bankruptcy.
Where does this leave us with Waterloos? The answer will depend on something I don’t know, but others (Erik Hinterding? Jaco Rutgers?) might: Is the quality of his impression much the same as those on A.f. paper or is it decidedly superior? Only if the latter can we realistically separate this impression from the rest. Even then, however, I wonder how readily we should assume a direct connection to Rembrandt. Michael Zell recently points out that a “very old tradition, probably dating to the early eighteenth century, has it that Rembrandt’s 100 Guilder Print … was originally exchanged as a gift between Rembrandt and his intimates.“ Yet before placing Waterloos in that particular loop, we might recall that the only concrete traces of the tradition to which Zell refers come, not surprisingly, from an impression on Asian paper. Whatever the elegance of Waterloos’s calligraphy, the more quotidian material of his sheet may point to something else entirely.
That said, the calligraphy would nevertheless incline me to join those who think of that something else, too, as a gift – but a gift not to, but from, Waterloos, and not necessarily one instigated by him: Might he not, after all, have been working on commission? As this implies, I feel less than confident that he would have meant the sheet as the model for a Bible illustration. By chance I’ve looked at a fair share of such things in the past few months – and Waterloos’s opening lines, with their praise of the artist, have no counterpart in anything I’ve come across myself or read about.
Even if, of course, the material evidence should not sustain the supposed link between Waterloos’s poem and Rembrandt, this hardly gives the latter what the Germans call a Persilschein. Whether or not Rembrandt got along well with this or that particular Jew, as a Christian of his time he would all but inevitably, if only by habit, subscribed to the kind of belief represented by that scabrous third strophe. Or to put it another way: Why should Rembrandt have been any better than, say, Bach, for whose anti-Jewish views we have ample evidence (and whose notoriously anti-Jewish St. John Passion I’ve recently conducted several times in Israel, no less)?
Warmest regards always (and not least for a wonderful visit to Russia),
Many thanks for this terrific, original contribution to the discussion, Joshua. When I saw the parallel between the setup and content of the inscription on the Visscher engraving and the Waterloos manuscript inscription, I became convinced that they had the same origin, and the dating of the Hundred-guilder print in 1649 and the Visscher Ecce homo in 1650 convinced me that they were made in conjunction with each other. However, if your dating of the paper is correct, this will call for reconsideration. I’ll get on to this as soon as I can.
Returning your warm regards, from a hotel room in Moscow, on the way to a lecture at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center and starting tomorrow a three-day program of visits to Jewish collections and institutions here,
Many thanks in return, Gary.
Again, I must stress that this is not a slam-dunk: the paper only suggestive, so ultimately it will depend on the quality of the impression. Unfortunately, this has not seemed like something one could resolve on the web (what was Panofsky’s line: “Damned originals”?).
Anyway, thanks as ever for raising these issues and keeping us on our epistemological toes!
Joshua Rifkin makes an excellent point about the paper! Definitely worth considering further. This is a great example of how technical research can contribute to a greater understanding of context and content as well as facture. It is indeed a pity that the New Hollstein volumes are so expensive.
Many thanks, Stephanie. But … I felt uneasy today and did a little more searching. According to the BN Gallica website, the Waterloos impression is one of those on Japanese paper, which would of course make it early, as Gary and others surmised.
The site is very confusing – the link for its image of the Waterloos impression seems to describe a different impression entirely (one of the later Baillie versions). On the other hand, Gallica does not list an impression of the second state, to which this impression supposedly belongs – and Hinterding in 2006 (p. 193, n. 349) gives the Collection Dutuit (not in the BNF) as the location of only impression of the second state on Asian paper in Paris. Oh, how easy this would have been if one had the New Hollstein to hand (why is something like this not on the web?)!
In any event: I would still hold to the thought that this impression is a gift commissioned by a third party (neither Rembrandt nor Waterloos) to be presented to a fourth. I still think this fits the context better than the Bible idea (and perhaps you already made the same suggestion in your 2006 article, which I have not yet managed to see). And it still, I fear, would leave the connection to Rembrandt moot.
One last thought: there are some small differences in Waterloos’s script between the Album amicorum inscription (1660) and the poem (with one exception, the letter “d” is different throughout the latter). This could help place the poem chronologically. But the sample size is not so great as to allow firm conclusions one way or the other.
Much egg on face. I realize that Hinterding n. 349 was in fact listing impressions on Western paper; n. 352 does cite two impressions on Asian paper in the BNF. So one of them is obviously Waterloos’s. Apologies to all. I’ll think four times before my next intervention.
Much ado about what? Accepting the fact that Rembrandt shared age-old and widespread religious prejudices. Prejudices held on a broad scale of intellectual and visceral intensity that survived even the Shoah, which would have been impossible without them. Prejudices that were rampant throughout the Christian world, rule rather than exception. An example: my adoptive mother (b. 1910) came from the French Catholic upper middle class and, although not very religious and married to an American who fought against Germany in WWII, expressed unambiguous anti-semitic sentiments throughout the second half of the 20th century; this while living in New York City and having Jewish friends…
What the ado is about, Jean-Marie, is that Rembrandt was long exempted from this unfortunately widespread prejudice. The evidence I have been piling up to show that this is unjustified continues to be disparaged, as if it does not reflect on him. This has consequences for the interpretation of his work and the understanding of his life. No matter, Frappez, frappez toujours is the motto!
OK. I know the feeling of swimming upstream . The defenders of the hypothesis of Rembrandt as champion-of-the-Jews must have rather strong evidence for their cause. That or a rather simplistic view of the human soul and its history. Isn’t it interesting that Rembrandt could inspire both a Julius Langbehn and a Raoul Mourgues?
Dear Gary et al.,
This important post and the lively discussion it generated only recently came to my attention, and clearly some of the issues raised relate to my work on Rembrandt. First I want to acknowledge that Gary is absolutely right to call out the “repression” in the Rembrandt literature (including my own work) of the disturbing and overtly anti-Semitic passage of Waterloos’s poem on an impression of the 100 Guilder Print. I find intriguing Gary’s proposal that Waterloos or someone else perhaps planned to enlist the print as a model for an unexecuted illustration in a Royal-size Bible, though I’m not completely convinced. And as Joshua and others have rightly noted, it should come as no surprise that a member of Rembrandt’s circle – or even Rembrandt himself ¬– harbored anti-Jewish views, which were pervasive in the Christian society of the time, including in the relatively tolerant Dutch Republic. Stephanie also rightly cautions that the writings or sentiments of a member of Rembrandt’s circle do not necessarily reflect his own attitudes, even if there was a personal bond.
I would only add the 100 Guilder Print with Waterloos’s incontrovertibly anti-Semitic inscription is actually consistent with Rembrandt’s portrayals of biblical Jews in New Testament scenes until the mid-1650s. A prime example is the print Christ before Pilate of 1635, a modified copy of which, as Gary points out, illustrates Lootsman’s bible of 1643 and bears a caption that he connects to Waterloos’s poem. The Jewish priests are strongly caricatured types who aggressively thrust the rod of justice on Pilate, who refuses it. Another example is St. John the Baptist Preaching also from about 1635, in which three Jews, identified by Hebrew script on one of their headdresses, turn their backs and converse conspiratorially as they walk away from St. John’s preaching of the Gospel to the diverse crowd of listeners. These figures represent the Pharisees and Sadducees whom the Baptist condemns as “vipers” (Matthew chap 3). The lightly etched Jews talking among themselves at the left of the 100 Guilder Print, while less explicitly caricatured, are similarly conspiratorial, alluding to passages in Matthew chap. 19 and Mark chap. 10 describing the Pharisees “tempting” Jesus in a debate about divorce.
But Rembrandt’s negative characterization of biblical Jews seems to fall away in his depictions of Christian scenes of the mid-1650s. In the etching Christ Seated Disputing with Doctors of 1654, for example, the attentiveness and respect of the learned men of the Temple contrast with Rembrandt’s previous depictions of the episode, particularly an etching of 1630 (and another print of 1652). In the 1654 version, an elder carrying a Bible and walking with a cane even advances toward Christ with curiosity. This shift and an intensified focus on showing Christianity’s fulfillment of Mosaic Law in works of the mid-1650s coincides with the period of Rembrandt’s illustration of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel’s Piedra gloriosa in 1655; the theological inflection this represents, I and others argue, can be situated within the Christian reception of the rabbi’s apologetic presentation of Judaism. Menasseh was far more famous among Christian Humanists and theologians than within his own community and his apologetic activities and publications of 1650s, including the Piedra gloriosa, responded to growing Protestant interest in and expressions of sympathy for the Jews as a precondition for a universal salvation predicated on what Gary identifies as the “replacement theology” of Christianity. (On this, see my Reframing Rembrandt and Shelley Perlove’s and Larry Silver’s Rembrandt’s Faith). Rembrandt was even willing – very unusually – to make significant changes to his four etched illustrations to align the images more closely with Menasseh’s text. The exceptional collaboration between Rembrandt and the rabbi is highly significant, even if the illustrations were never published with the book, as some scholars argue (I think wrongly – crude engraved COPIES appear in a later edition). Rembrandt’s and Menasseh’s cooperation in my view provides an appropriate historical framework for conceptualizing the artist’s representations of and approach to Jews and Judaism, one flexible enough to accommodate the complexities or paradoxes of a simultaneously sympathetic and critical attitude. Even Barlaeus, who Gary rightly notes was condemned for praising a Jew (Menasseh ben Israel), made clear that he still considered Jews “blasphemous.”
On a different but related point, I would also say that it seems at the very least counterintuitive that Waterloos would use an expensive, precious impression of the 100 Guilder Print on Japan paper for the purpose of reproducing it commercially in a large illustrated Bible publication. As Joshua suggested, perhaps a “third party” received this impression as a gift from Rembrandt (thanks to Joshua for mentioning my more recent work on Rembrandt and the gift). If so, this would have been consistent with the very old tradition, originating in a 17th-century inscription on an impression in the Rijksprentenkabinett, that Rembrandt distributed the 100 Guilder Print in the form of gifts (applicable primarily to individuated impressions printed on expensive supports, like this one). Although such an exchange would have involved some form of reciprocation, probably of money, the symbolic economy of the gift would have made it irreducible to a market or commodity transaction.
Thank you for your (as always) carefully considered and well-informed comment, Michael. I’d like to respond to your points.
You say that Rembrandt’s negative characterization of the Jew fell away in the mid-1650s. However, even if his images of the Jews in the Temple in 1654 are less caricatural than the others you cite, this was not a lasting turnaround. The figures on the left in Peter and John healing a cripple in the Temple of 1659 take the same conspiratorial pose as in the Sermon of John the Baptist, an attendant drawing in Chatsworth, Jews in the synagogue of 1648, etc.
About the illustrations to Piedra gloriosa, I think too little attention is paid to Menasseh’s own statement about them in the preface.”Iuntamente para mayor claridad per lo que se dize, he hecho en laminas, con grande propriedad, 4. figuras.” As I understand it, this reads: “Moreover, the better to clarify what is being said, I have in all propriety made four illustrations in print.” This is a first-person statement. Menasseh is claiming authorship of the illustrations, while defending himself against potential charges of impropriety from his own community. What then was Rembrandt’s role? It would seem to have been merely technical – turning sketches or instructions of Menasseh into etchings. As a paying commission a year before his bankruptcy, it would have been welcome even if it did not allow him to interpret the subject according to his own lights or to exercise autonomous artisticity. Looking at the ungainly prints, this makes perfect sense. (Forgive me if you or someone else has said this before.) This view of things does not necessitate any special understanding between Rembrandt, Menasseh or the Christian Hebraists, who indeed inhabited conjoining Amsterdam worlds.
I have a theory about why Rembrandt would have received this commission. Piedra gloriosa is dedicated to the great scholar and book collector Isaac Vossius. When Steven Nadler asked me a year ago whether I knew of any ties between Rembrandt and Vossius, I had to say no. But I quickly realized that there is a middleman available: Jan Six. This opens room for the hypothesis that via Vossius Six recommended Rembrandt for the job – and perhaps even paid for it.
About the function of Waterloos’s verses on the Hundred-guilder print, I may indeed have been carried away too far in stating as a matter of near fact that it was intended as a model for a print after Rembrandt’s invention. What you and Stephanie and Joshua are saying – that the poem was more private than public – could be more justified than I was willing to admit. Perhaps it is indeed just a homologous application of a standard form of printed captioning for a personal dedication on an expensive gift. But even in that case it would have been provided to Waterloos by Rembrandt. I cannot then follow you all in drawing a line between the message of the poem and Rembrandt’s understanding of the print. Please recall that as long as only the first sweet lines of the poem were being quoted – “This is how Rembrandt portrays the son of God from life …” – everybody was oozing syrupy sentiments about Rembrandt’s sympathy for his Jewish models. Only after I published the third anti-Judaic verse did critics start becoming so principled about the distinction between Waterloos’s ideas and Rembrandt’s. So I do not cede that much ground yet.
Thanks for keeping the discussion going, Michael.
Many thanks for your thoughtful response to my post. I sympathize with your skepticism of and frustration with, as you aptly put it, “everybody … oozing syrupy sentiments about Rembrandt’s sympathy for his Jewish models.” While the “romance” of Rembrandt and the Jews has a historiography that is in itself interesting, it is clearly anachronistic to project onto Rembrandt an a-historical, compassionate acceptance of Jews as Jews or the more recent ideal of a universal human essence transcending religious and ethnic difference. But minimizing the importance of Rembrandt’s participation the production of Menasseh ben Israel’s Piedra gloriosa seems to me to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Whatever the circumstances of the commission, the critical point is that Rembrandt was familiar with the book’s contents. He even took extraordinary pains to coordinate the images with Menasseh’s text, as is indicated by significant changes he introduced to the early states of two of the illustrations. Rather than merely following sketches provided by Menasseh, as you argue, he was uncharacteristically willing to make changes to his own designs after the rabbi or someone else pointed out discrepancies (the changes are not based on formal considerations). Rembrandt went so far as to incorporate Latin inscriptions in a late state of The Statue of Nebuchadnezzar Overthrown to designate the four empires that Menasseh identified in the statue’s various parts.
Attributing Rembrandt’s motivation for undertaking the project and his uncharacteristic willingness to surrender his artistic authority to his need for money in the year before his bankruptcy is also inconsistent with evidence of his conduct with other patrons. In 1654 he famously refused to comply with Diego d‘Andrade’s demand that he alter a portrait of a woman, which D’Andrade claimed was a poor likeness of the sitter. Rembrandt’s unyielding and unequivocal response, and a similarly uncompromising attitude to Don Antonio Ruffo’s complaint in 1662, contrast dramatically with his willingness to modify the designs of his illustrations for the Piedra gloriosa. This unusual degree of cooperation suggests, in my view, at least some measure of understanding. Menasseh, moreover, who was always under financial pressure, which was acute in this period, could hardly have afforded the fee Rembrandt could command. If, as you hypothesize, it was Vossius who hired Rembrandt at Jan Six’s suggestion, it does not change the critical point that Rembrandt was intimately familiar with this Jewish text, which addresses a Christian audience and offers an apologetic presentation of Judaism.
I do not agree that the prints are “ungainly”; the scene of Daniel’s Vision in particular is haunting and evocative. Perhaps these very small prints seem awkward compared to Rembrandt’s other biblical representations, but only because they originated as illustrations of Menasseh’s arcane, mystical interpretations of scripture. I cannot imagine that the rabbi would have been sufficiently skilled as a draftsman to provide Rembrandt with detailed sketches, especially of complex multi-figure scenes like Daniel’s Vision (nor that he would draw an anthropomorphic image of God). Other scholars have also suggested, as you know, that it was not Menasseh but Isaac Vossius, to whom the Piedra gloriosa was dedicated (several copies of the dedication volume with Rembrandt’s original etchings survive), who was responsible for having the prints bound with some copies of the book. Again, though, I think that’s beside the point: Rembrandt knew the book and its contents.
The connection between Rembrandt and Menasseh ben Israel – however we define it – is one of the few secure sources of knowledge about Rembrandt’s involvement with Jews, apart from the legal records of his contentious relations with a Jewish business partner, one patron, and a neighbor.
Regarding Peter and Paul Healing the Cripple of 1659, you’re right that it includes two Jews (in contemporary, not biblical dress) who seem to watch the miracle conspiratorially, which I should have acknowledged. (The so-called Jews in the Temple of 1648 conforms to his more negative portrayals of Jews and Judaism before the mid-1650s). But that doesn’t explain Rembrandt’s shift away from overtly caricaturing Jews (sometimes even depicting them as curious about Christ), nor his intensified and highly unusual formulations of Christianity as the fulfillment of Jewish law in works dating closer to the year of the Piedra gloriosa illustrations. In Peter and Paul Healing the Cripple, I would say, the contemporary Jewish figures are shown not so much as conspiratorial but as reserved, perhaps ambivalent witnesses to the Christian miracle, mediating between the ritual enacted in the ancient Jewish Temple in the background and the Gospel’s message of faith alone. If so, the image would still be consistent with the Christian reception of Menasseh’s apologetic presentation of Jews and Judaism, rather than a continuation of conventional animus toward Jews as enemies of Christ and the Gospel.
As the exchange between Gary and Michael Zell reminds us, the discussion of Rembrandt, H. F. Waterloos, and the Hundred-Guilder Print continues to rest in no small degree on questions of materiality. With that in mind, I might return to the fray to put together what strike me as the fundamental points germane to any further interpretation. In doing so, I shall repeat a few things from earlier postings, so that no one has to trawl back through them. At the same time, though, I shall not return to Gary’s hypothesis that the impression “was intended as a model for a print after Rembrandt’s invention,” as Gary himself has graciously acknowledged that he “may indeed have been carried away too far in stating [this] as a matter of near fact.”
According to Hofstede de Groot, Waterloos not only composed the verses on the impression but also inscribed them; although Hofstede de Groot did not cite any evidence, a comparison with the cursive heading and signature of Waterloos’s entry in the album amicorum of Jacob Heyblocq confirms the identification. What small discrepancies one can detect surely indicate nothing more than a gap in time – as much as eleven years could separate the album entry, dated 10 February (“Sprokkelmaant”) 1660, from the print.
Waterloos entered his four quatrains below the platemark on an untrimmed sheet of Asian paper probably measuring about 350 x 480 cm (thanks to Jun Nakamura on this point). He took considerable pains over the inscription: beyond the elegant calligraphy, one notes the careful highlighting of key words (“Rembrandt,” “Messias,” “Siloa,” “Dryheit”); the vertical rubrics “Anders” signaling each successive stanza; and the indentations emphasizing the different rhyme schemes (ABAB, AABB, ABBA, and again ABAB – but with indents reversed). All this suggests that he intended the result not for himself but for presentation as a gift or object of exchange. Conceivably, he initiated the project on his own, adding the poetry to an impression already in his hands. Equally, however, he could have worked on commission – from a collector who wished to enhance his pleasure in a specially treasured item, or someone who himself thought to make a gift of the print. Only if we imagine this last person as Rembrandt – and imagine him further as engaged with what Waterloos wrote – can we implicate the artist in the process. This obviously remains a possibility; but on the physical evidence, I see no compelling reason to favor it above any of the others.
So Waterloos’s verses do not, at least from this perspective, contribute anything directly to the vexed issue of Rembrandt and the Jews. I might pause over them for a moment nevertheless, if only because an esteemed colleague has suggested to me that their “anti-Semitism … is being overestimated.“ If nowhere near so blatant as the poem under the adaptation of Christ before Pilate printed by Cornelis Danckerts, Waterloos’s third stanza in particular leaves no doubt about his intent: whereas the preceding stanza, with its references to the sick, the children, the grieving young man, and the “schrifftgeleerden,” tracks closely to both Rembrandt and his primary inspiration in Matthew 19, this one lacks any such connection to either source, moving instead to a reflection on Jesus’s Passion whose final line (“Des blijft zijn bloet op haar, en wy zijn nu zijn leeden”) unmistakably echoes Matthew 27:25 (“His blood be on us, and our children”) – the “blood curse” foundational to so much Christian anti-Judaism. Strictly speaking, these words represent a choice that neither Rembrandt’s print nor Matthew 19 forced Waterloos to make; that he did make it, then, proves revealing.
Waterloos’s choice may prove revealing in another way as well. For at the same time as his invocation of the blood curse goes beyond anything depicted in the Hundred-Guilder Print, his account of Rembrandt’s scene passes silently over more than one striking figure – most notably the woman at Jesus’s feet, which cost the artist considerable trouble – that Gary and Paul Crenshaw have shown to derive from Gospel sources other than the single chapter on which the stanza relies (thanks here to Michael Zell). Waterloos thus has both more and less than Rembrandt. As with the material indications, I wouldn’t want to say this leaves no chance that the two acted in concert; but I can’t say it encourages the assumption that they did.
A final note: Gary observes that critics did not “start becoming so principled about the distinction between Waterloos’s ideas and Rembrandt’s” until he drew attention to the third stanza. I hope he’ll forgive me if I modify that to the extent that no one before Gary seems to have paid the stanza any notice whatever, let alone troubled to distinguish Waterloos from Rembrandt. In other words, Gary has performed the signal service of making us look at something many would just as soon not have bothered with; and no matter how the debate falls out, we cannot again look the other way.