Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book Review: Rembrandt's Jews by Steven Nadler

Rembrandt's Jews (2003)
Steven Nadler

This book is largely a portrait of Amsterdam's Jewish community in the 1600's and, to a far lesser extent, today. Steven Nadler, a professor of philosophy, has come to his subject primarily through a deep interest in the life and writings of Baruch Spinoza, who was expelled from the Portuguese Jewish community for his heretical ideas. Now there's a sensational story...

The title's mention of Rembrandt is certainly intriguing, but it seems when all is said and done that there is not all that much factual information on the relationship between the artist and the local Jewish community. Much of what we are given is conjecture, and Rembrandt himself here is something of a cipher. He is necessarily absent through much of the book. There is a fair amount of information though on some of the lesser Dutch artists.

The book is a little dry and somewhat slow-going, but then it does cover a lot of historical territory, particularly regarding Amsterdam's Jewish community during a fascinating epoch. I just wish it had lived up to all the promise of its title.