Antisemitism stereotypes in Art : the hooked nose and the octopus

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Jewish Star of David Painting
Star of David by Sharon Schurder

In preparation for my 2021 To Be a Jew Collection of original paintings, I researched Art and its relationship with Antisemitism. Here are my findings.


As antisemitism continues to run rampage across the world, I’ve been thinking about an interesting phenomenon that I keep seeing.

Regardless of the magnitude of the situation, people often don’t consider Jews as ‘victims’.

I must start off by saying that I am not knowledgeable in this topic and there are plenty of others far more researched than I am. This is my simple observation as a regular person living in London. These opinions are my own and do not represent anyone else or any organisation.

These thoughts are here to be put out into the world so I can hear what other people have to say – this is what I used to get up to on Instagram and although I do not miss the platform, I miss the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue! I am putting into blog format with an open comments section and will trial if the same open discussion can be facilitated through blog format. Let’s see!

Why aren’t Jews considered victims?

Victims are people who deserve pity, they are usually the minority and are considered the underdog. Victims deserve to be saved, deserve to be treated better. Victims get sympathy.

But for some reason, Jews sometimes don’t fit the category of victims.

Jews are often viewed through financial status.

In times when Jews are generally prosperous (and the world likes to ignore the 80% who aren’t), Jews are often seen as powerful. People sometimes think Jews run the world. Jews are often deemed greedy, all knowing, stingy and sneaky.

Jewish Stereotypes in Art

It is ironic for me, as an artist, to notice that it is art that helps to create images and stereotypes.

The stereotypical images associated with Jews are often the hooked nose male, the red head criminal and the octopus.

Jews in times of Prosperity

When Jews are prosperous the antisemitic stereotypical image is the crooked nose greedy businessman.

The Hooked Nose Jew

publication/distribution:  approximately 1908

This book was published in the UK in around 1908 with a stereoptypical picture of a Jew adorning the front cover.

With regards to the animal world, the most commonly utilised animal is the multi legged octopus as shown below:

The octopus is traditionally associated with the concept of Powerful Jews with power over the world. In this image, Winston Churchill is seen with a Star of David above his head to represent that he has been possessed by the Jews.

– Seppla (Josef Plank), Germany, 1930s

The protocols are a document that purports to represent the ideas of a secret society of Jewish elders and was published by Sergyei Nilus in Russia in 1905

– The Protocols of the Elders of Zion depicts a several legged insect on a globe representing power and might.

Jews in times of Poverty

But important to note is that there have been several periods where Jewish people were the poorest peoples. In this situation, the stereotype most utilised is that Jews can be considered vermin, worse than rats. For example, Fagin from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist (1915) is based on a stereotypical red-headed Jewish criminal. Dracula came over a hundred years prior and is again based on stereotypes of Jews enjoying drinking the blood of other humans (think blood libels) and money obsessed.

Oliver Twist and Fagin

publication/distribution:  approximately 1915-1928

Postcard with an illustration of a scene from the novel, Oliver Twist, written by Charles Dickens in 1837-8. The image was created by Arthur Moreland for C.W. Faulkner Ltd. postcard printers. It depicts Fagin, the Jewish fence and miser, fondling his hidden treasures in the middle of night, when he thinks everyone is asleep. Oliver, the young boy snatched off the streets to join Fagin’s gang of child criminals, watches from his bed. Fagin’s characterization is antisemitic and exploits many negative Jewish stereotypes. Referred to as The Jew, Fagin is greedy, vicious, and kidnaps small children and trains them to be thieves.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

publication/distribution:  approximately 1890

It is understood that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula to represent the anti-semitic beliefs that existed in Victorian England during the 1890s. Dracula was known for his peculiar physique, his obsession with sucking blood from other humans and his relationship with money.


Maybe I am biased. But it feels like when Jews are verbally or physically attacked, for some reason, it takes more of an effort for the general public to have pity. People will often say that it’s the Jews fault or that they must have done something to have created the hate.

Or even more interesting is, people say, that Jews can handle being discriminated against because Jews are powerful and can fight back. That they look after each other.

Or people say that Jews deserve what’s coming for them, that they asked for it.

This has been my perspective as I continue to explore my identity as a Jew in the UK and research artwork associated with the Antisemitism.

This is obviously my personal view and I’m sure plenty will disagree but as long as the stereotypical images of what a Jew is continues to reign, it is harder to challenge the concerning worldwide rise in Antisemitism.

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