This portrait has traditionally been described as being of Samuel Menasseh ben Israel, one of the most distinguished members of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. Born in Lisbon in 1604 he was an intellectual prodigy who, by the age of eighteen, had been nominated rabbi of the Portugese community in his adopted city. He lived on the same street as Rembrandt, and their friendship was both profound and long-lasting. Rembrandt was to illustrate one of his books in later years (see lot 249), and we know that the rabbi supplied Rembrandt with various texts and Hebrew writings for use in his paintings. Menasseh ben Israel died in 1657 during his return from a mission to Oliver Cromwell to secure the readmission of jews to England.
It has been noted that this etching demostrated a new freedom of draughtsmanship in his technique. The rapid strokes and open hatching is closer to his reed-pen drawings. The artist has eschewed rich costumes and iconographic paraphernalia in order to focus sympathetically on the calm, intelligent gaze of the subject.