The Jew as Other: A Century of English Caricatures 1730-1830

Presented by The Library of JTS
Exhibition Dates: April 6 - July 31, 1995
Online selections available indefinitely

The eighteenth century often has been dubbed "the golden age of English caricature". The purpose of the exhibition is to present a selection of caricatures of the Jews of eighteenth-century England, chosen primarily from the extensive holdings of the Israel Solomons Collection at the Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary. The library houses one of only three large-scale collections of such prints in the world, the others being those of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum and the privately owned collection of Mr. Alfred Rubens of London. Leaving aside for the moment any intrinsic artistic merit, the particular interest of these prints is as a social and pictorial record of gentile attitudes toward the Jews in a country that was long heralded as among the most liberal in eighteenth-century Europe. Despite the progressive and humanitarian ideals of the intellectual Enlightenment, Jews were still being depicted in English popular culture as they had been since medieval times, as usurious embezzlers, blasphemers in league with the Devil, clandestine consumers of roast pork and seducers of Christian virgins. For all our own notions of racial awareness at the end of the twentieth century, it comes as a bit of a shock to find that an epoch that regularly vaunted its supposed rationality and common sense still gave succor to so many age-old popular superstitions concerning the Jews. When scholars and social historians look back at the twentieth century with the hindsight of two hundred years, will they view our era with all its atrocities as any less riddled with prejudice than the eighteenth century as we see it? In many respects, the study of this earlier period provides an appropriate paradigm for an understanding of our own age.

The prints chosen for this exhibition include works by the major successors of Hogarth, most notably James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, George Woodward, James Sayers, Isaac Cruikshank and William Heath. Throughout the eighteenth century, caricatures were widely available, being sold in print shops and on the street by itinerant peddlers (including Jewish peddlers as in no. 5). They are the forerunners of the newspaper cartoon in an age when newspapers were unillustrated. It is known that some found their way to North America where similar stereotypical attitudes are loosely represented in contemporary anecdotes about the Jews. Early collectors of caricatures often preserved them by mounting them in albums for their own personal amusement. Later, similar prints were issued in series or album form. By the 1840s, the popularity of such cartoons was to lead to the foundation of Punch, or the London Charivari, a satirical and humorous paper that ran weekly, illustrations and all, until its demise in our own serious (or perhaps "politically correct"!) age of the first half of the 1990s.

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