An exhibition of small etchings by the Dutch 17th Century master, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, will be on view at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center beginning March 15.
“Rembrandt and the Jewish Experience: The Berger Print Collection” showcases 21 prints with Judaic subjects by Rembrandt and one drawing by Rembrandt’s teacher Pieter Lastman. These works highlight the artist’s nuanced relationship with Amsterdam’s citizens of the Jewish faith, and the keen insights Rembrandt brought to interpretations of Old Testament Bible stories.
The etchings are detailed and intimate, much like Rembrandt’s relationship with his subjects, and force the viewer beyond the cursory glance awarded to the large-scaled painting he’s most famous for. Looking deeper into the lines of these etching reveals a story of pure human emotion, said Courtney McNeil, Telfair Museums’ Chief Curator & Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs.
“There is a universal quality to the work,” McNeil said. “Each subject wears his joy and grief that, despite being centuries past, can easily translate into the present. Spending quality time with the work will reveal subtleties and show how Rembrandt revolutionized the medium.”
The impact of Judaism on the life and work of Rembrandt is a remarkable and multifaceted story. Rembrandt lived and worked in Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. During his lifetime, he saw the city quadruple in both population and in geographical size, becoming one of Europe’s wealthiest and most vibrant cities. Amsterdam was also noted for its welcoming spirit toward immigrants, particularly the Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition.
“The theme of this exhibition is particularly relevant here in Savannah, home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country,” McNeil said. “Savannah’s first Jewish settlers arrived in 1733, just a few months after the city was founded by James Edward Oglethorpe. These settlers fled from Europe to [the colony of] Georgia for many of the same reasons of persecution and discrimination that drove so many Jews to settle in Amsterdam during Rembrandt’s lifetime.”
Rembrandt’s legacy as an etcher is characterized by the new and innovative techniques he introduced to printmaking. He broke with longstanding, traditional depictions of biblical narrative. Instead, Rembrandt added emotional and psychological depth to his subjects through expressive faces, dramatic body language, and his bold use of shadow and light
“Rembrandt’s etchings are truly masterful, and the incredible details of line and shadow must be seen in person to be fully appreciated,” McNeil said. “We are thrilled to be bringing such an important collection of Rembrandt prints to Savannah for our members and visitors to enjoy."