Description

Though displayed in exhibitions and reproduced in books of Jewish historical interest, this striking portrait surely deserves to be more widely known. The Hebrew inscription identifies the subject as Jechiel Michel ben Nathan from Lublin, precentor – or cantor – at the ‘German’, i.e. Ashkenazi, synagogue at Amsterdam. He is shown outside this building which Beudeker has included in his section on churches, chapels, and other places of divine worship in that city, which also contains views of the famous ‘Portuguese’, i.e. Sephardi, synagogue there in the well-known series of etchings by Romeyn de Hooghe. The topographical setting in Van den Berge’s print is dwarfed by the powerful figure of the man whose innovations, such as the introduction of additional singers, one of whom was a bass, split his community into two factions. The two small figures behind Jechiel Michel are believed to represent the two musicians whose performances, acclaimed as sweet music by some and abominated as caterwauling by followers of the traditionalist cantor Leib, led to fisticuffs and the scandal which was held responsible for the early death of a newly appointed rabbi in 1709.

The artist’s name, Pieter van den Berge, appears between the two columns of Hebrew text at the foot of the print. The date is the Hebrew year corresponding to 1699/1700.

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