Jewish holiday in Tetouan

Jewish holiday in Tetouan

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J.-G. Berizzi

Publication date: April 2012

Historical context

Faced with an Algeria invested by France since 1830, Morocco remained until the end of the century a land little known to Westerners, except Tangier where the embassies are located. In the XIXe century, it was one of the most important in the Arab world. Its members often lived in mellah, closed quarters reserved for them, as in Tetouan. As in other Arab countries, Moroccan Jews were subject to the dhimma, that is, to restrictive and vexatious rules. Dehodencq painted several scenes of Jewish weddings, one Execution of the Jewess and other scenes like Justice of the Pasha (1866, Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Musée des Beaux-Arts Salies), whose Jewish protagonists are recognizable by their dark costume.

Image Analysis

The scene takes place in the main street of the mellah, easily recognizable since it appears in contemporary prints and photographs. The painting depicts an annual procession of Jews from Tetouan, who were allowed to walk through the city because of a service rendered. The festive procession is led by a few musicians: the central figure plays a bowed string instrument called "rebab", his neighbor accompanies him on the oud, while, behind them, two men sound a kind of tambourine. A large and restless crowd surrounds them, while women have gathered on the terraces that border the street to watch the show.

This feast inspired another work in Dehodencq in 1859. The scene takes place in the same street, but a larger framing shows a few Arab guards armed with rifles framing the demonstration - and revealing the surveillance the Jews were subjected to in Moroccan society. Here, the painter has focused all his attention on the exuberance of the party, whose movement and colors underscore music and screams that one could almost hear.


The expressive force of Dehodencq’s painting was underlined by Théophile Gautier who, referring to one of the first Moroccan paintings (Jewish concert at the Moroccan caïd) of the artist, noted "an astonishing ethnographic aptitude, a deep feeling for races." Judging "the heads of Jewish musicians [...] of a surprising truth", the critic noted how much travel had allowed artists to move away from "types of convention" which fixed "the same character to the Greeks, the Turks, the Spaniards, Arabs, Germans, Dutch ”. This expressiveness of physiognomies, as well as the movements of the characters, the bright and contrasting colors, describe a lively, exuberant North African Jewish society, which the painter wanted to make all the spice.

Study in partnership with the Museum of Art and History of Judaism

  • Orientalism
  • Morocco


SEAILLES Gabriel, Alfred Dehodencq, man and artist, Paris, Society for the propagation of art books, 1910 The Jews in Orientalism, Paris, Museum of Art and History of Judaism / Skira Flammarion, 2012

To cite this article

Nicolas FEUILLIE, "Jewish holiday in Tetouan"

Video: The Jewish Holidays Video Guide