Interior of a Synagogue

Interior of a Synagogue

c. 1725-1735

Alessandro Magnasco

(Italian, 1667-1749)

Oil on canvas

Framed: 140.5 x 167.5 x 6 cm (55 5/16 x 65 15/16 x 2 3/8 in.); Unframed: 122 x 148.5 cm (48 1/16 x 58 7/16 in.)

Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1930.22

Description

The Jewish synagogue was Magnasco's favorite and most frequently painted subject, here presented in a mystical, dark, and imaginative way. Expansive architectural space creates room for a multitude of tiny, fantastical figures with elongated limbs. These characters thoroughly engage in the service as they respond with emotion and expressive gestures. Flashes of light dash across the surface against a dark, muted palette of earthy tones to create an otherworldly effect and suggest spiritual presence. The composition invites the viewer to enter the space and experience the service. Though he used characteristic elements of Baroque composition and was strongly influenced by Venetian painting, Magnasco's loose brushwork, caricature-like elongated figures, and mysterious subject matter set him apart. Magnasco peers into another world, that of a curious sector of society: he was not Jewish and probably perceived the Jews as outsiders. At the dawn of the Enlightenment in Europe, many progressive aristocratic families commissioned paintings by Magnasco, suggesting the painter's support for Enlightenment ideals such as religious tolerance. Magnasco's personal views on Judaism in Italy remain unknown.

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