Early Anglo-Jewish Artists

Articles Image

It is not my intention in the course of this paper to embark on any ephemeral discussion on Jewish art, a subject upon which much has already been written, but I propose to confine my remarks to those Jewish artists who were working in this country prior to 1837, the year of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne, and to place before you such facts about them, biographical and otherwise, as I have been able to assemble.

The term artist is a wide one, particularly when dealing with a period when little distinction existed between artists and crafts? men, and, for the purpose of this paper, I have included not only painters and engravers but medallists and seal-cutters, and, to a certain extent, architects, goldsmiths, silversmiths and glassworkers. Some of these crafts are closely allied and it is not unusual to find a person practising several at the same time or drifting from one to another.

A certain amount has been written on the subject of continental Jewish artists, but the English field has so far scarcely been explored. The Jewish Encyclopaedia, for instance, can only cite three Anglo Jewish engravers prior to the nineteenth century, and states incor? rectly that none is mentioned before the second half of the eigh? teenth century.1

The existence of Jewish artists at all in times when Jews were

1 v. p. 175.

excluded from most crafts by the trade guilds calls for some explana? tion. In certain spheres it was due, perhaps, to the special inherited skill which they possessed. Seal-cutting, for instance, was practised by Jews throughout the ages, signet rings having been used by Jews to seal contracts and other documents from Biblical times,2 and we find Jews holding court appointments on the Continent as seal-cutters and medallists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Then again, for every Jewish community there were certain essential requi? sites?the Scrolls of the Law, the ritual appurtenances in gold and silver, the communal seals, and even the tombstones?all of which called for the services of skilled craftsmen. Hebrew manuscripts and marriage contracts are found skilfully illuminated, and it may be assumed that most of these are by Jewish hands, while it has been asserted3 that other ritual objects were entrusted chiefly to Jews; certainly they would always have been given preference, thus encour? aging among them the pursuit of certain crafts.

In England during the eighteenth century the restrictions imposed upon Jews in regard to retail trade confined them to dealing in second-hand goods and were responsible for their prominence in the precious metal and jewellery trades. These trades called for the services of skilled metal workers and engravers and no doubt stimu? lated the demand for Jewish craftsmen. Thus, in Sir C. J. Jackson's English Goldsmiths and their Mar\s, the names of about fifty Jewish goldsmiths are recorded prior to 1837 (Appendix I), while about a hundred Jews are to be found in F. J. Britten's list of old clock and watch makers (Appendix II). Nevertheless, the Anglo-Jewish artists of

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today


24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More


Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More


Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More


Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More

Your Cart