Liberation of Jewish slaves: a woman and a young man embrace a bearded man dressed in robes, others travel on the road with camels. Engraving by C.H. Jeens after H. Le Jeune, 1847.
- Le Jeune, Henry, 1819-1904.
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"The Royal pictures. Liberation of the slaves. H. Le Jeune, painter. C.H. Jeens, engraver. Size of the picture, 6 ft. by 4 ft. Sometimes we feel surprise that our artists who essay historical painting do not, for subjects, resort more frequently than they are seen to do, to the history of the ancient Jews, as recorded in the Old Testament. Beyond certain well-known incidents, which are familiar to us all from the prominence given to them in the sacred volume, it is a rare thing, indeed, to find a Jewish narrative represented on canvas. And yet the whole history of the Hebrew nation abounds with material in the highest degree suitable for the artist's purpose—materials remarkable no less for the interest they furnish, than for the picturesque qualities associated with them: magnificence of scenery, natural and architectural, richness and variety, oftentimes, of costume. From the period when Moses led the tribes of Israel out of the land of Egypt, to the time when Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others uttered their prophecies in the streets of Jerusalem, there is no nation of antiquity whose history stands forth so prominently, so truthfully, and, to all but the sceptic in revealed religion, with such intense interest, as that of this extraordinary and favoured people: and, consequently, there is no book in which the painter may find so surely all that he requires, as in the annals which have come down to us from the pens of the Hebrew writers. Take, as an example, what is recorded of one individual only, Elijah, the ''Prophet of Carmel," whose life furnishes subjects enough for a whole gallery of pictures. Mr. Le Jeune's painting of 'The liberation of the slaves' is a pleasing departure from the old and hacknied themes—we use the word in a pictorial sense only—that are constantly presented to us. He has searched the sacred record for something that would take him out of the beaten track of art-work, and has found a subject equally novel and agreeable. Among the appointments which Moses, by divine command, made for the government of the ten tribes was one entitled "The year of release; " it is referred to in the book of Exodus, chap. xxi.: " If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing." And at still greater length in the book of Deuteronomy, chap. XV : " At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. … And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years, then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him." Mr. Le Jeune, in his representation, has brought this noble lesson of liberality ably before us ; the only fear is that in this, as in too many cases, his work will be valued as a picture more than for the thoughts it ought to convey to the mind. To our reading it seems to offer two opposite meanings. A company of Hebrews travelling through Judaea have left behind them at some town a young man and woman, released from servitude, who have met, and are embracing an aged father, perhaps; these constitute the principal group. But on each side of them is another group, whose attitudes and countenances indicate that they are left behind to commence their period of servitude, or are mourning that its period of expiration has not yet arrived. We know not how far this reading coincides with the artist's ideas. However, it is a very beautiful composition, drawn with masterly skill, and lighted up with great brilliancy, though the general tone of colour is rather too red to be pleasant to the eye; the right hand group is especially attractive, both from the feeling thrown into it, and by its exquisite finish. The picture was purchased by the Prince Consort in 1847 : it is in the Royal Collection at Osborne. "--The art journal, loc. cit.
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