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Oil painting depicting a peddler buying eggs from a boy

Object | Accession Number: 2016.184.570

Polish, 19th-century oil painting on canvas, depicting a red-haired peddler buying stolen chicken eggs from a boy. Peddlers were itinerant vendors who sold goods to the public. Peddling was a common occupation for young Jewish men during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, old prejudices formed an antisemitic stereotype of the Jewish peddler. The stereotype originated from the economic and professional restrictions placed on early European Jews. They were barred from owning land, farming, joining trade guilds, and military service. These restrictions limited Jews to the occupations of retail peddling, hawking, and moneylending. Additionally, medieval religious belief held that charging interest (known as usury) was sinful, and the Jews who occupied these professions were looked down upon, predominantly by European Christians. They were perceived as morally deficient and willing to engage in unethical business practices. The inability of Jews to legally hold other occupations, combined with Christians’ disdain for the professions Jews were allowed to practice, helped form the canard of the greedy Jew who exploited Gentiles. This canard was often visually depicted as a Jewish peddler, an untrustworthy figure that sold cut-rate items at inflated prices. The depiction of wicked Jewish characters as redheads also has a long history. Some interpretations of the Bible describe Esau and David (King of Israel), as having red hair, and for many red hair became a Jewish identifier, even though Jews are no more likely to have red hair than other groups. In medieval Europe, redheads were regarded as untrustworthy, and the literary villains Fagin and Shylock had red hair. The painting is one of more than 900 items in the Katz Ehrenthal Collection of antisemitic artifacts and visual materials.

Artwork Title
Jewish peddler buying stolen eggs
creation:  approximately 1800-1899
creation: Poland
Object Type
Genre painting (lcsh)
Oil Paintings.
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Katz Family
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 18:13:48
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