In titling this painting The Jewess (1908), one of the first that Modigliani exhibited, the artist declared that the sitter’s cultural identity was more important than her name. The model was most likely Modigliani’s lover, Maud Abrantes. Beyond her pallor, she is depicted with a withdrawn, languid demeanor, her cheeks and deeply set eyes touched with startling tabs of green, a streak of which also highlights the ridge of the patrician, aquiline nose. A curious pale mark obscures the area between her eyes, further isolating and drawing attention to her nose
This emphasis on the nose recurs throughout Modigliani’s work and is a focal point of his sculpture. It is s self-referential facet of his own Jewishness — an identity that his daughter later recalled as being deeply important to him. Modigliani’s exploration of his Jewish identity, as a central aspect of his portraiture, has been little noticed.
Photographed in the Jewish Museum in NYC as part of the Exhibit Modigliani Unmasked, which Continues Through February 4th, 2018.