Who were the couple in Rembrandt’s tender painting, and were they really Jewish?

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Jewish Bride, Oil on Canvas, 1667

  You may have seen this painting before and wondered about its name. Were the two figures really Jews, and were they in fact a couple?

Rembrandt didn’t title this work,but it was already known asThe Jewish Brideby the 19thcentury – two hundred years after the artist’s death.Perhaps the title’s only justification was that Rembrandt was well known for using models from Amsterdam’s Jewish community. The woman’s red hair was commonly thought of in Europe as a Jewish ethnic characteristic, and the placement of the wedding band on the bride’s right index finger accords with Jewish custom. But is that enough?

Some art historians interpret the scene as a father bidding farewell to his daughter, while others detect a biblical motif. Most confusing is the man’s hand lying gently on the woman’s breast, which certain critics have seen as a reference to the Bible.

All this speculation is an unnecessary distraction, however. In the words of Rembrandt biographer Christopher White, The Jewish Bride is simply “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love between a man and woman in the history of painting.”

Rembrandt van Rijn – Self-Portrait, 1659