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- Author Maurycy Gottlieb (1856—1879)
- Date of production 1876
- Dimensions height: 63 cm, width: 53 cm
- Author's designation M Gottlieb / 1876
- ID no. MNK-II-a-6
- Branch The Sukiennice
- Availability The Siemiradzki Room
- Acquired date donated by Aleksander Krywult in 1883
- Object copyright The National Museum in Kraków
- Digital images copyright public domain
- Digitalisation NMK, iMNK project
The composition presents a young man with oriental facial features, emanating with sorrow and suffering. He is wearing a decorated dark robe, a royal diadem on his head, and a gold earring in his ear. The painting, in dark tones, was brightened with patches of amber colours for the fragments of the face and shoulders as well as with warm reds for the background.more
The composition presents a young man with oriental facial features, emanating with sorrow and suffering. He is wearing a decorated dark robe, a royal diadem on his head, and a gold earring in his ear. The painting, in dark tones, was brightened with patches of amber colours for the fragments of the face and shoulders as well as with warm reds for the background. By the introduction of a sophisticated range of softly applied patches of colour, combined with the subtleness of chiaroscuro and light reflections, Gottlieb obtained a specific mysterious mood.
When creating the self-portrait, the painter referred to the two figures known under the name of Ahasver, thus allowing for a twofold interpretation of the work. The eastern style of the costume and the royal diadem indicate that this is a representation of Ahasver, the Biblical Persian king, mentioned in the Book of Esther; he guaranteed freedom and privileges for the Jews. Ahasver is also the name of the Jew from a medieval anti-Semitic legend, who refused to help Jesus walk with the cross to Golgotha, for which he was subsequently sentenced to a perpetual exile. The figure of Ahasver, from the work by Gottlieb, can be read as the archetype of the Wandering Jew, the symbol of homelessness of a nation, the deprivation of one’s own roots, perpetual exile. In this way, Gottlieb directed attention to the tragedy of a nation deprived of its own state, simultaneously accentuating the necessity for tolerance. In addition, the anti-Semitic events which took place at the Kraków School of Fine Arts must have influenced the artist to take on this subject. In the wake of these events, despite being defended by Jan Matejko, Gottlieb left Kraków and went to Munich. During a visit at the Old Pinakothek in Munich, he had an opportunity to familiarise himself with the works of Rembrandt, which influenced his choice of themes (Rembrandt frequently used Biblical motifs; he also created a series of self-portraits and Jewish portraits) as well as the form of compositions. It was under his influence that Gottlieb applied strong chiaroscuro effects in his depiction of Ahasver, derived from a hidden source of light, a gold and amber tone melting the contours of the figures, and the atmosphere of concentration and mystery.
Elaborated by Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved