The paper argues that the painting is not a mere interpretation of Lessing’s Ring Parable and a call for perennial tolerance but kind of a mirror which the painter holds up for the society to see that religious tolerance as Lessing advocates has not arrived in Germany even 67 years after the first publication of Nathan the Wise.
But the painting is more than only a mere call for religious tolerance, it is also a critic towards the three Grand Lodges of Germany which, against the Constitution of Freemasonry, have not yet allowed Jews in their ranks. Under the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte the Jews in Germany were granted emancipation and many Lodges were founded under the Grand Orient de France which has allowed Jews in their ranks as full members. Oppenheim painted The contemplation of the Rings 1845, a time during which the German Jews had once again lost their civil rights and could not join any other German societies.
The painting has a double meaning: first it is a perennial call for tolerance as is the interpretation of the Ring Parable which Oppenheim shows by using symbols of religious character and by the figures different postures and physiognomies. But the second meaning of the painting, the critic of the restrictive admission policy of the three German Grand Lodges is only noticeable to insiders who are familiar with Freemason imagery.
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