Van Gough and Sephardic Jews

What a treasure I found today, the day a truce is called in Palestine. The most famous artist in the world was a Biblical Scholar and Philosopher, if not the inventor of Wikipedia. He was interested in so many things that would take him wherever it will – at any time! He is more than a compulsive obsessive. I own this kind of mind. I want to do ten things at once. My empty canvases are filled – with several works not begun! They fight for dominance in the creative half of my brain. And, now I read these letters for the first time – and go where no man has gone before – but the remarkable Vincent van Gough!

I NOW get Gogh! He acquired a poor impression of human beings, and the state they are in, from his study of theology. He tries to convert Mendes who is a few years older than him. He is in need of Disciple No.1. He gives him presents with the borders ruined with his scribble, a tactic Spooky Noodles employs to capture – and hog all my attention! To his chagrin, nothing takes -or so he concludes – and why not! He is up against a genetic powerhouse of learning, whose DNA is rumored to come from King David – and thus Jesus? Not even passing his first exam, he is trying to convert the Divine Jewish Jesus to – Paulianity! You have to laugh!

I talked to Barbara, my therapist, seven days ago, and we discussed whether or not I would complete my autobiography, being, what total strangers and hired ghost writers, wrote about The Prescos – drove me insane….and may drive me back to drink? But, alas I found my McGuffin, my Major Theme – and new title! I told Barbara how my father worked my brother and I like slaves in his produce market. At eight and nine, we started our careers as Lumpers for Acme Produce. We graded tons of potatoes. We handled potatoes all day. Victor William Presco, was……The Spud King! We lived on potatoes!

‘The New Patato Eaters

In the top photo we see Mendes da Costa. Below him is Mr. Rosemary Presco calling her four children to dinner. At our table is a old plate full of steaming potatoes. Dig in!

“And, how did your day go my son Janke?”

“Great, Papa! I had a revelations about Galatians, and decided to take up oil painting as a means to get my theological message across!”

“How many times have I told you not to hang around with those Jewish boys!”

And…then I find the Roos family!

John Presco

134 (133, 113): To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 19 November 1877. – Vincent van Gogh Letters

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President: Royal Rosamond Press

10.Gal. 3:28. Van Gogh undoubtedly chose this text because of the Jewish descent of Mendes da Costa, who said of Van Gogh in his recollections: ‘From those days [meaning when Van Gogh was employed in the art trade] he still had some prints, small lithographs after paintings and suchlike. Time and again he brought me one of them, but always completely spoiled by his having scribbled the margins completely full of quotations, which had something or other to do with the subject, from Thomas a Kempis and the Bible. Once he even gave me a copy of De imitatione Christi, but not at all with the unspoken objective of converting me; he only wanted to show me the human side of it.’ Originally appearing in Het Handelsblad of 2 December 1910; quoted from Verzamelde brieven 1973, vol. 1, p. 171.

137 (136, 116): To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 9 December 1877. – Vincent van Gogh Letters

Had a talk with Mendes this week, or rather last week, about ‘He who hate not, even his own life also, he cannot be my disciple’.17 He declared that expression too strong, but I maintained that it was the simple truth, and doesn’t Thomas a Kempis say it when he talks about knowing oneself and despising oneself?18

If we look at others who have done more and are better than we are, then soon enough we come to hate our own life because it’s not as good as that of others.19 Just look at a man like Thomas a Kempis, constrained by the love of Christ20 to write that little book, sincere and simple and true as few others were, either before or since.”

“At 10 o’clock Uncle came home soaking wet, for it was raining quite a lot that evening, and I had a long talk with him and Aunt, because Mendes had paid them a visit a couple of days ago (one shouldn’t utter the word genius lightly, even if one believes that there is more of it in the world than many people think, but Mendes certainly is a very remarkable person, and I’m happy and grateful for my contact with him) and hadn’t given them a bad report, fortunately, but Uncle asked me if it wasn’t difficult, and I admitted that it was very difficult and that I was doing my best to bear up and to be alert in all kinds of ways. He gave me encouragement, however. But now there’s still that terrible algebra and geometry, anyway, we’ll see — after Christmas I have to have lessons in those as well, there’s nothing for it.

Henri Teixeira de Mattos – Wikipedia

134 (133, 113): To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 19 November 1877. – Vincent van Gogh Letters

“Have taken pains to find a teacher of Algebra and Geometry and have succeeded, namely a cousin of MendesTeixeira de Mattos, a teacher at the Jewish School for the Poor.3 He gives me hope that we’ll have met the requirements by around October of next year. If I should then pass the exam, things will have gone very well indeed. Because when I started they said that 2 years would be necessary for the first 4 subjects mentioned, whereas if I should pass in October, I’ll have done more in an even shorter time. May God give me the wisdom I need and grant me my heart’s desire, namely to complete my studies as soon as possible and to be inducted into a living and the practical duties of a minister. Doing that work, and being devoted to it, I believe one would be doing what God wants one to do.

The preparatory studies (i.e. those preceding the actual theological study and practice in preaching and speaking) more or less comes down to the history, languages and geography of Greece, Asia Minor (which can be taken to include Palestine) and Italy. So I have to study these just as diligently as a dog gnaws a bone, and similarly I should like to know the languages, history and geography of the northern countries, i.e. those around the North Sea and the English Channel”.

3. It is not clear which Teixeira de Mattos is intended. Wim Heijen, who has researched this family, thinks that it was probably Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos, a retired doctor who could have volunteered as a teacher at the Israëlitische Godsdienst Armenschool (Jewish School for the Poor), from 1871 a continuation of the Nederlandsch-Portugeesch-Israëlitische Armenschool (Dutch-Portuguese-Jewish School for the Poor). In the account-book of the Portuguese-Jewish community, Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos occurs frequently as a moneylender. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, two members of the Teixeira de Mattos family had been members of the board of governors of the Portuguese school for the poor.Another candidate is a nephew of the aforementioned, another Isaäc Teixeira de Mattos (in 1881 an office clerk), who felt compelled to become involved in the care of the poor. See SAAm; I. van S. Mulder, Verslag van de commissie belast met het toezigt over de Nederlandsch-Israëlitische godsdienstige scholen binnen het synagogaal ressort van Amsterdam. Amsterdam 1863, p. 11; W.Chr. Pieterse, Inventaris van de archieven der Portugees-Israëlitische Gemeente te Amsterdam 1614-1870. Amsterdam 1964, p. 18 and Wim Heijen, ‘Teixeira de Mattos. Bankschandaal tastte goede naam aan’, Ons Amsterdam 49-6 (1997), pp. 160-164.

17 letters found

  1. RM03 Copied poems: H.W. Longfellow, ‘Afternoon in February’ and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘Three kings’ daughters fair’. Probably between December 1874 and March 1876.
  2. 116 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 28 May 1877.
  3. 120 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Tuesday, 12 June 1877.
  4. 122 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 15 July 1877.
  5. 123 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Friday, 27 July 1877.
  6. 124 To Hermanus Gijsbertus Tersteeg. Amsterdam, Friday, 3 August 1877.
  7. 127 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Saturday, 18 August 1877.
  8. 128 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 27 August 1877.
  9. 130 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Friday, 7 September 1877.
  10. 131 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Tuesday, 18 September 1877.
  11. 133 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Tuesday, 30 October 1877.
  12. 134 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 19 November 1877.
  13. 135 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Saturday, 24 and Sunday, 25 November 1877.
  14. 136 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 3 and Tuesday, 4 December 1877.
  15. 137 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 9 December 1877.
  16. 140 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 10 February 1878.
  17. 141 To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Monday, 18 and Tuesday, 19 February 1878.

Maurits Benjamin Mendes da Costa
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • May 14, 1877 – July 5, 1878

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The classicist Maurits Benjamin Mendes da Costa (1851–1938) gave Vincent van Gogh daily lessons in Latin and Greek. Vincent had to immerse himself in the classical languages to attain the proficiency required for the theology course on which he hoped to enrol. Vincent had difficulty mastering the material, but Mendes told him he was on track to prepare successfully for the entrance exam. Vincent consulted Mendes, a mere two years older, on numerous matters and greatly respected him, as is evident in a letter to his brother Theo:

“one shouldn’t utter the word genius lightly, even if one believes that there is more of it in the world than many people think, but Mendes certainly is a very remarkable person, and I’m happy and grateful for my contact with him.” Read the complete letter

However, he observed:

“Still, Greek lessons in the heart of Amsterdam, in the heart of the Jewish quarter on a very warm and oppressive summer afternoon, with the feeling hanging over me that many difficult examinations will have to be taken, set by very learned and cunning professors, are rather more oppressive than a walk on the beach or in the Brabant wheatfields, which will certainly be beautiful now, on a day like that. But we must ‘strive on’ through everything, as Uncle Jan says.” Read the complete letter

Ultimately, the pressure became too great: Vincent was unable to take in the enormous amounts of new material he was confronted with. Mendes gave up hope that Vincent would be able to attain the proficiency necessary for the entrance exam and advised Vincent’s family to allow him to quit. In July 1878, Vincent left Amsterdam in disappointment and went to Etten to figure out what to do with his future.

137 (136, 116): To Theo van Gogh. Amsterdam, Sunday, 9 December 1877. – Vincent van Gogh Letters


Maurits Benjamin Mendes da Costa, Amsterdam, The Netherlands | Van Gogh Route

Van Gogh – Study for The Potato Eaters 1885 –

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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