Gallery acts to change painting's offensive description

Visitors’ complaints have caused the National Gallery to change the description of this 17th century painting

Visitors’ complaints have caused the National Gallery to change the description of this 17th century painting

The National Gallery has altered the description it gives visitors of a 17th century painting after complaints that the piece could be interpreted as antisemitic.

The Rich Man Being Led To Hell, painted by David Teniers the Younger in around 1647, is based on a New Testament teaching.

It depicts a wealthy man being punished for not helping the beggar Lazarus. Demonic figures surround the man, who is wearing a skull cap.

After visiting the gallery, Mark Magidson, an art exhibition designer, claimed the painting was “blatantly antisemitic”.

He said the man’s image was “undoubtedly that of a Jew” and called on the gallery to adapt the explanatory label which appears alongside the piece.

Mr Magidson was backed by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, a US-based lecturer and academic. Rabbi Rosen said the painting “clearly reflects Christian polemic” and was part of the medieval church’s “demonisation of Jews”.

A National Gallery spokeswoman confirmed the details provided on its website for the painting had been altered on Tuesday. She said visitors’ comments had been taken seriously and that an error had meant the information was not posted earlier.

The new details explain that the wearing of a skull cap was a “common accessory for 17th century dignitaries, scholars and men of all faiths” and did not signify that the man was Jewish.

Last updated: 8:45pm, February 20 2014