Moritz Oppenheim - Sabbath Eve

Sabbath Eve , 1867 Oil on Canvas
Collection of Sarah and Julian House, Phoenix, AZ.
from the Exhibition Moritz Daniel Oppenheim: Jewish Identity in Nineteenth Century Art,
YU Museum, Jan. 31 - August 31, 2001

This painting is an example of a grisaille, or gray monochrome painting. Oppenheim painted versions of his color scenes as grisailles in order to reproduce the Scenes from Traditional Jewish Family Life as lithographs for a printed picture portfolio.

The father in this painting blesses his children in an unusual manner — usually both hands were placed on a child's head during a blessing. The probable source for the painting's scene may be found in an 1846 story by Leopold Kompert. The story describes a scene where both children rush at their father as he returns from synagogue, each competing to receive the first blessing. The father resolves the problem by extending one hand to each child and blessing them together.[1]

At this Sabbath dinner, a Polish guest is present standing on the right side of the room wearing a shtreimel (broad-brimmed fur hat). Oppenheim depicted the figure of the Polish guest in many of his paintings. At a time of cultural and social conflict between emancipated German Jews and Eastern

European Ashkenazim, Oppenheim's guest was portrayed being welcomed into family gatherings with honor and respect. The image of the welcome guest signified the need for German Jews to be accepting of their less worldly kin, and highlighted the religious practices and language that both groups held in common.

As Oppenheim's audience examined this painting, it would have perceived an anachronism in the family's dress — for example, the father's three-cornered hat, knickers, and buckled shoes. The old-fashioned clothing was used to create a romantic feel in his paintings. It was borrowed from the late Rococo fashions of the end of the 18th century, a time, incidentally, that Oppenheim himself had not experienced first hand.[2]


[1] Schorsch, Ismar. "Art as Social History: Oppenheim and the German Jewish Vision of Emancipation." In Moritz Oppenheim. Catalog of an exhibition at the Israel Museum, fall, 1993. Copyright ? 1983 The Israel Museum (Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Printing Enterprises, Ltd.). P. 58. [back]

[2] Schorsch, p. 46. [back]



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend