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Portrait of the Wandering Jew
Portrait of the Wandering Jew

18th century
End-grained wood, hand coloured on laid paper
44 x 30,2 cm

Photo Nicolas Feuillie © Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaisme
 
Donated by M. and Mme Harburger
mahj 91.4.1

The Christian legend of the Wandering Jew was a widespread iconographic and literary theme in European countries up until the twentieth century. This figure of the Jew, generally called Ahasver, who, having refused to help Jesus on the Way of the Cross, is condemned to wander for ever, inspired a mixture of horror and compassion.

Late eighteenth century folk-art images and French and Rhenish carved figurines display clear differences to the anti-Jewish caricatures of the mid-nineteenth century. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the images of the Wandering Jew usually showed a "venerable old man" with the features of a gentle pilgrim wanderer.

The popularity of Épinal imagery, from the late eighteenth century, marked the transition from Christian anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism: now the Jew was portrayed with a hooked nose and often repugnant garb. The Jews were viewed as outsiders until the Revolution, and anti-Semitic phobia did not take hold until the integration of the Jews into the nation. Then they were portrayed with the characteristics that became the classic attributes of the Jew in anti-Semitic illustrations, from the Dreyfus Affair to the exhibition at the Grand Rex under the Vichy government.
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© Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme