"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Monday, August 2, 2021


This 1880 marble bust of Jessica from The Merchant of Venice by Moses Ezekiel stands in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC.
In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, Jessica is the daughter of Shylock, a Jew who lends money to a Christian merchant, Antonio. The plot thickens when Antonio fails to repay Shylock, and the moneylender is ruined. This drama may have appealed to Moses Ezekiel because of its sympathetic portrayal of Jews. As an American Jew living in Italy, Ezekiel may have identified with Shylock, who was forbidden citizenship in Venice because of his faith. Ezekiel’s Jessica turns her head as if to say, “I am never merry when I hear sweet music,” a line from the play that the sculptor inscribed on the base of the bust. -- SAAM


I am never merry when I hear sweet music.

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