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View of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Synagogues in Amsterdam

Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Haarlem, 1638–Haarlem, 1698)

Amsterdam, 1682

Oil on canvas, 58.7 x 73.5 cm.

On permanent loan from the Musée de Picardie, Amiens

Berckheyde, Synagogues séfarade  et ashkénaze à Amsterdam

Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Haarlem, 1638 - 1698), Gezicht op de Grote en Portugese Synagoge te Amsterdam (Vue de la grande synagogue et de la synagogue portugaise d’Amsterdam), Amsterdam, 1682, huile sur toile, 58,5 × 73,1 cm, dépôt du musée de Picardie, Amiens

In the late 16th century, conversos or “new Christians” from the Iberian Peninsula, persecuted by the Inquisition which suspected them of practicing the religion of their ancestors in secret, found refuge in the protestant United Provinces, and particularly in Amsterdam. As they gradually reconverted to Judaism, these “Marranos” relearnt Hebrew and the rituals and fundaments of the religion that they had almost entirely forgotten. They established community institutions, opened oratories and schools, printed books and in 1639 the three first so-called “Portuguese” congregations merged into a single community.

Intent on preserving the tolerance they enjoyed in Holland and avoiding any risk of disorder, their authorities exiled thinkers criticising rabbinic orthodoxy such as Uriel da Costa (1585-1640) and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), excommunicated respectively in 1623 and 1656.

This picture, of which there are two other versions, was painted in 1682, shortly after the two buildings were completed. The Ashkenazi synagogue was inaugurated in 1671 and the Sephardic, so-called “Portuguese” synagogue in 1675. In Amsterdam as in Venice, different Jewish communities were intent on preserving their culture and language and built separate but neighbouring synagogues to perform their liturgies.

There were the religious differences between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities but also social inequalities, most of the German Jews being poor while those from the Iberian Peninsula prospered, using their family contacts to develop major financial and commercial enterprises with the East Indies, the Americas and the Ottoman Empire.

Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde was famous for his cityscapes and painted several views of Amsterdam and its most admired buildings. The Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, its synagogues and the cemetery at Ouderkerk soon became attractions for travellers and the inquisitive.


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