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The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs (Die Heimkehr des Freiwilligen aus den Befreiungskriegen zu den nach alter Sitte lebenden Seinen)

Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (German, 1800-1882)

The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs (Die Heimkehr des Freiwilligen aus den Befreiungskriegen zu den nach alter Sitte lebenden Seinen), 1833-34

  • Oil on canvas
  • 34 x 37 in. (86.4 x 94 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Richard and Beatrice Levy , 1984-61

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The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs (Die Heimkehr des Freiwilligen aus den Befreiungskriegen zu den nach alter Sitte lebenden Seinen)

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The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Family Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs (Die Heimkehr des Freiwilligen aus den Befreiungskriegen zu den nach alter Sitte lebenden Seinen)

The Return of the Jewish Volunteer is set in a domestic dining room. A table in the center of the composition is draped with two tablecloths, one patterned, the other white. Atop the table are a half-eaten loaf of braided challah and a kiddush cup, details that let the viewer know it is the Jewish Sabbath. In this richly detailed setting, other objects of note are two plaques with Hebrew inscriptions, an open book on the table whose page layout identifies it as a Talmud, the family’s cat peering out from underneath the table, and the edge of a doorway at the picture’s far left.

Warm sunlight filters into the room through a large arched window in the center of the background. The time of day is most likely afternoon.

A beam of light guides the viewer’s gaze toward the young man. Seated on a chair at the far left of the composition, the man is wearing a blue and gold military uniform, adorned with an Iron Cross, which identifies him as the soldier in the title. The soldier is looking off toward his sister who leans over him.

Standing in the foreground, just right of center, the soldier’s mother looks at him; a tear is streaming down her cheek. She wears a red coat and white satin skirt.

The soldier’s father, sitting behind him and to his left, holds his son’s hand and looks intently at the Iron Cross on his chest.

In the center of the background, two younger siblings look over at the soldier, though their gazes appear to be fixed more on his uniform than on him. A third sibling on the right is the only character whose gaze is directed away from the soldier. He seems preoccupied with looking at the soldier’s accoutrement.

All the men and boys in the picture, with the exception of the soldier, wear traditional Jewish skull caps.

The soldier is the focal point of this scene. In addition to the light streaming toward him, which leads the viewer’s eye toward him, most of the figures incline and gaze toward him.

Through his handling of light, shadow, and patterning, the artist convincingly depicts a variety of textures such as those of the wood floor, the satin dress, and the metal objects.

The color palette of the painting includes many neutral colors that convey a sense of the diffused afternoon sunlight, but there are also some bright colors woven into the composition especially highly saturated reds, that help keep the viewer’s eyes moving around the scene.

Source:
Berger, Maurice, et al. Masterworks of The Jewish Museum. New York: The Jewish Museum, 2004, pp. 42, 43.