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Jewish Journal

The Forgotten Adler

by Milad Doroudian

August 5, 2014 | 4:30 am

Self-portrait of the German painter Salomon Adler (1630-1709). Exposed in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts

To paint is a terribly difficult thing to do. Yet, to paint others over scenery and landscapes makes it that much more difficult. For some at least. Salomon Adler on the other hand was born with the superb gift of portraiture. It wasn't just his ability to capture individuals at their best, but he was able to recreate people's faces that exhibited emotions with immaculate accuracy. Although this particular talent was not at all that rare, Adler took it to the next level.

Why is this artist so important and worthy of remembrance? The truth is that historiography has neglected him, mainly due to the fact that his only legacy is his work, which can only speak for itself. However, we do know that Adler was one of the most prominent Jewish artists in Europe during the Baroque period, but also prior to the beginning of mass Emancipation which granted Jews citizenship in different respective European nations.

Born in Danzig, then Germany, he grew up with the sole goal of becoming a painter. In his youth he moved to Milan, Italy where he flourished amid other artists for the remainder of his life. Perhaps the most notable thing about him is that he was the mentor of the Fra Galgario, a famous Italian painter that resided in Bergamo. However, there is more to the picture than meets the eye.

Adler lived in a period when Judaism in Europe was still clinging to rigid lines of conservatism. Most Jews held on to the idea that any art or imagery not related to the Tanakh was idolatrous and prohibited by the Second Commandment. As a result of this many Jews did not publicly dwell in the arts, in fear of angering their communities. Adler was one of the first secular Jewish artists to have opened the door for Jews who wished to break away from rigid conservatism to the realization  of liberal Jewish artistry. He, and the few others like him, were in essence the beginning of Jewish secular artistry in European form prior to the granting of mass emancipation to Jews.

Mind you this was the 17th and 18th centuries, more than 300 years ago, in a time when most Jews in Europe still lived in egregious conditions as a result of the governments that oppressed them. The only nation that afforded them more human rights was Poland, and those settled in the Pale of Settlement. The point is that to be a Jewish painter in 17th century was something that was simply not easy, not only due to the xenophobia that one most likely had to deal with, but also the lack of sympathy from the Jewish communities who viewed artists as idolatrous. The truth is that Medieval Europe was not that pleasant.

Still, Adler most likely did not let the world that surround him bother him too much as it is obvious that his work received most of his concentration. Perhaps the one thing that defines his work, as I said before, was his ability to capture sheer emotion however petty or grand unto the canvass. The ramifications of each line, form and shape all entangled with unique colors give rise to portraits that almost come to life.

The truth is that there are very few baroque artists whose works I admire, however amid the few that I do I can say with some confidence that Salomon Adler is one of them. It isn't just the fact that he is Jewish, which makes him so alluring  but rather his flair with the brush, as well as propensity to choose splendid colors and shades.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Milad Doroudian is a history student at the University of British Columbia and a writer. He is currently working on a book on the Jassy Pogrom of 1941, and is an active...

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