Purim, Moritz Oppenheim, Nineteenth Century
A postcard with a drawing by Moritz Oppenheim portraying a German Jewish family during the Purim feast. Two of the people in the drawing are wearing masks, as is customary on the festival. The child wearing the mask is performing for the family who seem to be enjoying the performance. The child is accompanied by a musician playing a lute who can be seen in the left-hand corner.
The father of the family would seem to be the man seated in the armchair, surrounded by his children. He wears a kippa, as does the child climbing on the table to watch the performance. On the wall is a photograph of what appears to be a man wrapped in a tallit. Hanging from the ceiling is a traditional Shabbat lamp. All these elements suggest that this is a family who observe religious laws.
From their elegant dress and elaborate furnishings, they can be presumed to be a wealthy family. The woman peering into the room from the doorway is possibly dressed in a maid’s outfit, which is a further indication of their affluence.
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim was born in Hanau, Germany in 1800. He was one of the first recognised modern Jewish artists. He lived during the Haskalah (the Jewish Emancipation) when many Jewish families were rapidly assimilating. Oppenheim, nonetheless, painted a number of portraits of traditional Jewish families performing various religious ceremonies.
Jewish History teachers could use this drawing to trigger a discussion about the influence of the Haskalah on German Jewry. Jewish Studies teachers could discuss the various Purim customs portrayed in the picture. Art teachers could compare Oppenheim's art with the art of his contemporaries, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Describe what you see in the picture.
Who are the people? What are they doing?
Describe the objects in the photograph (for example, their clothing, and furniture). What do they tell us about the people?
Look at the expressions on the people’s faces. What does this add to your understanding of the picture?
Is this picture representative of German Jewry at the time? Read this article and find out.
Can you see people from different class backgrounds in the painting? Explain.
In this painting the artist has frozen a moment in time. Imagine what was going on either before or after this particular moment.
Compare this celebration of Purim to modern-day Purim celebrations. What is similar? What is different?