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Portrait of the First Potsdam Rabbi, Jechiel Michel Hirsch. Etching. 17 x 13.1 cm. 1762. Wessely 69 I (of II).
Together with Daniel Chodowiecki and Johann Wilhelm Meil, Georg Friedrich Schmidt was one of the most significant graphic artists of the Prussian Rococo. He was also a gifted portrait painter. From 1737 to 1743 the artist had lived and worked in Paris, where he had associated with artists such as Nicolas de Larmessin and Hyacinthe Rigaud. In May 1742 he was appointed a member of the Académie royale by royal order, even though he was of Protestant origins. Having spent several years in St. Petersburg, Schmidt returned to Berlin, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.
Michel Hirsch, the first rabbi of the Prussian royal seat of Potsdam, is depicted in half-length wearing a fur hat, long beard and fur-trimmed caftan, the traditional costume of Polish Jews. He lived from around 1719 to 1777 and was Potsdam’s first honorary rabbi from 1743, an indication of the religious tolerance practised in Prussia under Frederick the Great. The owner of a hemp factory in Westphalia and Potsdam respectively, for whose products Hirsch enjoyed a monopoly throughout Brandenburg, he was a wealthy man. In addition, he was treasurer of the Jewish community in the electorate of the Mark of Brandenburg. Schmidt’s portrait, which is distinguished by its subtle characterisation, was widely known under the title of “The Jew of Potsdam”. The etching is included in numerous renowned international collections of Judaica. A fine, even impression with margins, before deletion of the letters. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.
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