Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882)
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Moritz Daniel Oppenheim was a German painter who is often regarded as the first Jewish painter of the modern era. His work was influenced by his cultural and religious roots at a time when many of his German Jewish contemporaries chose to convert. Oppenheim is considered by the scholar Ismar Schorsch to be in sympathy with the ideals of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, because he remained “fair to the present” without denying his past.
Oppenheim was born to Orthodox Jewish parents at Hanau, Germany in 1800 and died at Frankfurt-on-the-Main in 1882. He received his first lessons in painting from Westermayer in Hanau and entered the Munich Academy of Arts at the age of seventeen. He later visited Paris where Jean-Baptiste Regnault became his teacher, and then went to Rome, where he studied with Thorwaldsen, Niebuhr, and Overbeck. While in Rome, he studied the life of the Jewish ghetto and made sketches of the various phases of its domestic and religious life in preparation for several large canvases, which he painted on his return to Germany. In 1825, he settled at Frankfurt and shortly after, exhibited his painting David Playing Before Saul; a great number of admirers from all parts of Europe would visit his studio. In 1832, at the instance of Goethe, Charles Frederick, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach conferred upon him the honorary title of professor.
Oppenheim’s studies of Jewish life, his pictures of Emperor Joseph II and Moses Mendelssohn, and his portraits from life of Ludwig Börne and other contemporary Jewish notables established his reputation as one of the foremost Jewish artists of the 19th century. His Return of the Jewish Volunteer is among his most famous works and was frequently reproduced; others include Mignon and the Harper, Italian Genre Scene, Confirmation, and Sabbath Blessing. All these are characteristic examples of his power of conception and skill at grouping.
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