Review: The Rabbi and the Painter

The Rabbi and the Painter

by Shoshana Weiss, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham

Kalaniot Books (imprint of Endless Mountains Publishing)

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Rachel Fremmer

This work of historical fiction imagines a friendship between Rabbi Judah Aryeh and the famous painter known as Tintoretto, who both lived in Venice during the mid-late 16th century. While it is true that Rabbi Judah had an unusual amount of interaction with non-Jews for the time, there is no evidence that he and Tintoretto ever met. The book focuses on a single painting of Tintoretto, depicting The Last Supper, commissioned by a Venetian church. Weiss proposes that Rabbi Judah advised Tintoretto on the composition of the painting, which seems, perhaps, a bit far-fetched. The ending of the book, in which the painting is accepted by the church, is somewhat abrupt. 
The illustrations portray the expressions and personalities of the rabbi and the painter vividly. The reader can see how they might engaged in passionate discussions of the topics that interested them both. Although the muted tones are pleasant, I wish the illustrator had chosen a brighter palette to match the intensity of the characters.
This book meets the criteria for the Sydney Taylor Book Award in its authentic portrayal of the Jewish experience. The setting makes it, as far as I am aware, unique for a picture book.
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Reviewer Rachel J. Fremmer is a lawyer-turned-unemployed elementary-school librarian. She is a native New Yorker and lives there with her husband and two daughters, ages 16 and 13, who are rapidly outgrowing her area of book expertise. She loves baking and doing crossword puzzles.