Arent de Gelder 1645 – 1727

Judah and Tamar (1667)

oil on canvas (64 × 88 cm) — 1667
private collection

Arent de Gelder biography

This work is linked to Genesis 38:16

Tags: Jacob

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Judah was the fourth son of patriarch Jacob and his wife Leah. He had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Er was married to Tamar. He was killed by God for unknown reasons. Judah then had Onan marry Tamar, an ancient Jewish tradition called Levirate marriage. Onan however knew that according to the tradition any children would not be considered his. He therefor spilled his semen on the ground. God killed him too.

So poor Tamar was still without children. Judah then promised that his third son Shelah would also be hers, when he would come of age. But when Shelah had reached adulthood, Judah did not fulfill his promise. Tamar then decided to seduce her father-in-law, as she did not wish to be left behind without children.

She dressed as a prostitute and put on a veil. When Judah saw her standing by the road, he did not recognize her. He offered her a kid goat as payment and gave her his staff and seal as security. Afterwards, Judah sent a friend with the kid, but Tamar had already disappeared.

A few months later her pregnancy started showing. Judah accused her with adultery, a serious crime that involved the death penalty. But Tamar produced the staff and seal, upon which Judah realized his error. Tamar gave birth to a pair of twins. One of the sons would become an ancestor of David.

This canvas is the first depiction by De Gelder of this subject. It shows the moment when Judah, overcome by lust, approaches Tamar. She welcomes him smiling, but holds up her hand to ask for a payment. Judah's staff could be a phallic symbol. De Gelder made several paintings on the story of Judah and Tamar, for example this one in 1681.

Colors and the quick painting show the influence of De Gelder's teacher Rembrandt. The rough faces and the halfperson figures hint at the influence of the so-called Utrecht Caravaggists, a group of Caravaggio followers in Utrecht.

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