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
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)
Encourage students to examine this painting carefully:
- Describe the different people in this painting. What are they wearing? How old do they seem to be? Describe their poses, gestures, and body language. What are they doing?
- What is the setting for this scene? What visual evidence helps you figure this out (Encourage students to describe the place/location, as well as the time of day and even the historical period.)
[The inclusion of the kiddush cup, and the challah indicate that the setting is a traditional Jewish home on the Sabbath. The sunlight suggests late afternoon. The clothing tells us that these characters are from the past.]
- What is the focal point of the painting? How does the artist draw your attention there?
[The soldier is the focal point of the composition. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to him by the gaze of the other figures, the way in which most of the figures incline toward him, and the beam of light coming through the window.]
- What colors do you see in the painting? How do they help lead your eye around the canvas?
[Reds and oranges highlight the attire of the different figures. The repetition of these hues leads your eye from one to the next.]
- What is the mood of this scene? How does the artist’s rendering of the interior help create this mood?
[Oppenheim has created a sense of heightened emotion with the facial expressions and body language of the characters.
- How does each member of the family react toward the man in uniform? What is the older man looking at? What is the boy on the right doing? What do all of the reactions suggest to you about the story being told?
[Their reactions range from excitement to intrigue to concern. The soldier wears a military uniform and an Iron Cross, which means he may have just arrived home. The father stares at the cross while the young boy is captivated by the military accoutrements.]
- How do the gazes, gestures, and facial expressions of the figures help tell the story?
FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION:
After giving students an opportunity to examine this painting, explain its historical context and lead a discussion of related topics and themes:
- Why might the artist have chosen to depict this particular moment in the narrative? What do you think might happen next? If you were the artist, what part of the story would you choose to paint?
- Oppenheim’s painting communicates tensions between generations. What details has the artist included to express those tensions? Have you ever experienced tension with members of an older generation? Between religion and secular culture? Describe your experiences and your responses to them.
- Rather than depict a contemporary scene, Oppenheim chose to paint a scene relating to a war that occurred twenty years earlier. Why do you think an artist would tell a story about the recent past? [He might do this to parallel a current issue with a critical distance from it, or to be more subtle, to remind a viewing audience of a relevant past event, etc.]
- If you were asked to create a painting that reflects a topic, issue, or episode from the recent past, what would you choose and why?
RESEARCH TOPICS / CONTENT CONNECTIONS:
- Modern European Jewish History
- Genre Painting
- Assimilation and Acculturation