SCHOOL OF REMBRANDT
When it was purchased in 1981, this painting - which in the 19th century had been attributed to Rembrandt - was recorded in the inventory of the Residenzgalerie Salzburg as a work by Rembrandt's pupil Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. This and other attributions, inter alia to Aert van der Gelder (1645-1727), Karel van Savoy (1621-1665) and Willem Drost (biographical data unknown) are currently considered unlikely. The painting is dated to about the 50s of the 17th century.
Because of its highly dramatic plot, the story of "Judah and Tamar" from the Old Testament was a popular subject of 17th-century Dutch painters and one of the favourite themes interpreted in Rembrandt's workshop. On the one hand, it was intended for moral edification, on the other hand, it had a socio-political significance since it was an allusion to the ongoing secession and emancipation of the Northern Provinces from Spanish rule. Executed in many different ways, it became one of the many works copied again and again by trainee artists.
Judah and Tamar
The subject is a story from the Old Testament (Genesis 38). The painting, executed in the unmistakable chiaroscuro style of the School of Rembrandt, shows Judah with the Canaanite Tamar. Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law, the widow of his two elder sons. In accordance with ancient Jewish marriage laws, she demanded levirate marriage (marriage of a widow without a son to the deceased husband's brother) to Judah's youngest son. As Judah failed to comply, she resorted to a ruse and sat down at the side of the road disguised as a prostitute. Her cunning scheme worked: Judah, who had been widowed for a considerable time was not hard to seduce. As a pledge, he handed her the patriarchal insignia of his tribal authority: staff, signet ring and cord. Tamar conceived and gave birth to twins, whom she named Perez and Zerah. Through Perez who continued the official patriarchal lineage, Tamar became the direct forebear of the royal house of David. In the Jewish interpretation, Tamar is the embodiment of a femininity that prostitutes itself and tries to ensnare out of an overwhelming desire to dominate men through deceit and seduction. In Christian tradition, the story of this forbear of Jesus has a positive interpretation.
Gabriele Groschner, Thomas Habersatter, Erika Mayr-Oehring (Ed.): Masterworks. Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Salzburg 2002, p. 26