The Jewish nose in early modern art and music


  • I am grateful to Professor Louis Waldman for graciously complying with my request to read and comment on this study, to the two anonymous readers for their helpful suggestions, and to Professor Ziva Amishai-Maisels for her encouragement. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are the author's.


The Jewish nose has often been an object of parody in art and literature, most notably in examples of anti-Semitic content from Fascist Germany. Early anthropologists devoted no little energy to the topic in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century. They distinguished the ‘Jewish’ or ‘Semitic’ nose from straight, aquiline, flat, and snub noses by its being ‘hooked’. A major study on the Jewish nose, referring to these early essays of largely German origin and to their usually racist arguments, is Sander L. Gilman's ‘The Jewish Nose’. But, to date, there is no literature on the Jewish nose in art works of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Nor is there any on the Jewish nose in relation to music for the same or any other era. The present article opens, by way of introduction, with a few words on Jews as delineated in early painting. In continuation, it discusses a typical, yet hitherto neglected graphic example of the Jewish nose as satirized in a work from the early modern era. It concludes with a review of various attempts of composers, at the time, to simulate the sonic qualities of Jewish nasalized speech in works of music.