Samuel Menasseh ben Israel (1604–1657) and Rembrandt were acquainted for several decades. The Portuguese Jewish author and theologian commissioned the artist to illustrate his religious text, Piedra Gloriosa, nearly twenty years after this likeness was created.
The origins and purpose of this portrait are ambiguous. Within a half-oval format, the man is presented with a calm, intelligent gaze. The focus of the portrait is the sitter’s face, which is framed between the large hat and the heavy cross-hatching across Menasseh’s lower body. The relaxed manner of this etching suggests that it may have been more a character study than a formal portrait.