Silver gelatin print, in a 19th-century rosewood frame
39 x 29 cm. (15 ½ x 11 ½ in.)
Rudolf Lehnert, born in Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Ernst Landrock, a German from Saxony, met in Switzerland in 1903. The following year they moved to Tunis, setting up their joint photographic enterprise, Lehnert & Landrock, which quickly gained international success. The First World War temporarily suspended the busines when Lehnert was interned in Corsica and then Algeria, accused of espionage. They resumed their work in Cairo in 1924, with the Egyptian capital proving attractive thanks to its stability and appeal as a tourist destination. Here they listed themselves as postcard publishers, rather than as photographers, but still continued to print larger souvenir photographs. In 1930 Lehnert returned to Tunis, opening an independent photographic studio. As he wrote to the painter Alexandre Roubtzoff in 1922, ‘his heart was in Tunisia’.
The present photograph was reproduced as a Lehnert & Landrock postcard, which identified the sitter as an ‘old rabbi’ and the location as Tunis. The photograph itself was therefore taken between 1904 and 1914. The image demonstrates Lehnert & Landrock’s great skill with the camera, showing their mastery over light and shadow, as well as volume and detail. The overall feel is Rembrantian, both in terms of the subject and the composition, and it is probable that the photographic duo had the great Dutch master in mind when they composed this image of a rabbi.
Fig. 1, Rembrandt, Head of an Old Man in a Cap, oil on panel, 24.3 x 20.3 cm,
Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Ontario
The history of Judaism in Tunisia dates back to Roman rule in the 2nd century, documented by the writings of Tertullian and the discovery of a synagogue in 1883 from this time. The Jewish population received further influxes in the 7th century from Spanish Jews fleeing the Visigoths, and Arabian Jews arriving after the Caliph of Baghdad gained control of Tunis. From this time onwards, the condition of the Jews in Tunisia waxed and waned, depending on which Islamic dynasty was in power, until French intervention in the 19th century improved their position. With the arrival of the French protectorate in 1881, French replaced Judeo-Arabic as the everyday language of the Jewish community. The Jewish population of Tunisia reached a peak of 110,000 in the early 20th century, around the time the photograph was taken, declining over the second half of the 20th century to around 1,500 today.
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