Print this page

Smitten By Catherine

mivision | 14 March 2017
Ophthalmologist Henry R. Lew has published a book that explores the persecution of Jews over 300 years from the late 1400s through to the mid-1700s, even referencing the expulsion of the Jews from London in 1290, two centuries prior to the Spanish Inquisition.

The book, Smitten by Catherine was inspired by a chance sighting, and subsequent purchase, of a painting by Catherine da Costa in the style of Rubens. Catherine was the first ever Jewish female painter in recorded history; the first ever English born Jewish painter, male or female; and only the second English born female painter after Mary Beale (1633-1699). She came from a long line of wealthy Jews originally from Spain and then Portugal who eventually settled in England; was the god-daughter of Queen Catherine and the daughter of the Queen’s physician.

Although Dr. Lew refers to Catherine frequently throughout the book, we learn little about her at a personal level. Instead, the author has used the subject as a lever to provide an account of this fascinating period of Jewish history, during which time Jews were treated both abominably and with compassion by different Christian and Muslim communities. This was, at the same time, a period of inter-marriage, protection of wealth, and political power plays. It is an interesting read.

Dr. Lew has published a limited edition of just 500 copies of this hardback book, complete with plates of Catherine’s work, works by her long term tutor Bernard Lens III, as well as the original painting by Rubens that Catherine copied and which inspired this book. The book is available at hybridpublishers.com.au.

Dr. Lew has practiced ophthalmology full time for 40 years and has lectured, written, and made movies on various aspects of ophthalmology including small incision cataract surgery, modern glaucoma surgery, and interesting aspects of oculo-plastic surgery including immunotherapy. He has also authored six other books: Horace Brodzky (1987); In Search of Derwent Lees (1996); The Five Walking Sticks (2000); The Stories Our Parents Found Too Painful To Tell (2008) and Lion Hearts (2012).

  • Smitten by Catherine Painting
  • Catherine Rachel Mendes da Costa. Self-Portrait at the Easel