Ashkenazi Jews praying in synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878 painting by Maurice Gottlieb) via
I added this the last time this popped up on my dash, I am re-adding it now, and so help me G!d I will add it every time someone reblogs this picture for aesthetic or nostalgia or like “look at these picturesque old-timey Jews with their quaint religious rituals. How sweet…” Let me drop some knowledge on you:
This painting was described by one of my professors as “the biggest ‘F**k You’ in Art History.” The painter, Maurycy [Moshe] Gottlieb, was a young Polish Jew (only 22 at the time) and a brilliant and talented artist; that’s him standing and looking mopey in the centre of the painting. He had proposed marriage to a young woman, Laura Rosenfeld, the daughter of a prosperous merchant family; she is pictured standing on the left in the women’s gallery. Laura is subtly (or not) pointing at two women who are whispering to each other on the other side of the gallery. The older woman is Laura’s mother, who disapproved of the match with the poor artist Maurycy and pressured Laura to reject the proposal. Maurycy was heartbroken, and felt like his life was over, which he depicted (scandalously) by inscribing the Torah scroll (in the centre) with his own epitaph: “…donated in memory of Reb Moshe [Maurycy] Gottlieb, the righteous of blessed memory.” Notice how all the men seem to be looking away in denial or guilt.
The following year, Laura announced her marriage to another man — the wealthy banker, Leo Henschel. Maurycy tragically died two weeks later, of a mysterious sudden illness (which was, according to legend, simply a broken heart). This painting stands as his searing indictment of the community which allowed gossip and concern about ‘reputation’ to destroy his chance at happiness and love. Knowing the backstory, I can never see this painting the same again: it no longer shows sweet and innocent Jews at prayer, but Maurycy’s passionate rejection of the hypocritical, backbiting community which rejected him. “F**k You” indeed!
Laura Rosenfeld, if you’re wondering, outlived her new husband by 3 decades, and was murdered by the Nazis at the age of 87 on the way from the Westerbork transit camp to Auschwitz.
Re logging for the clarification
Wow. I knew just a tiny portion of that story, and it really gives context to having it in the main hall of my synagogue.