Lebanon or North Syria, 9th-8th century B.C.E. Ivory: carved 1 x 1 1/8 in. (2.5 x 2.9 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Bequest of Anna D. Ternbach, 1996-71
This diminutive ivory plaque representing a woman's face was originally an inlay in a piece of furniture, probably a bed or couch. Such inlays became particularly common in the Near East during the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E. and were produced in one of three artistic "schools," in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), northern Syria, and Assyria (modern Iraq). The Jewish Museum inlay is most likely of the Phoenician school, which combined elements of Egyptian and Near Eastern art in an elegant style. Here, the female figure wears an Egyptian wig, yet the scene in which she is represented has its origins in Near Eastern religious beliefs and practices. Based on other examples with this imagery, the original inlay was larger and included the frame and balustrade of a window. The motif of a woman looking out of a window, known from religious artifacts in Cyprus and Jordan from around the same period, has been associated with the cult of the goddess of love in several ancient Near Eastern cultures. For example, a Mesopotamian goddess, Kilulu, is described as "she who bends out the window." The custom of using virgins in sacred sexual rites was known in Phoenician cults of the goddess Ashtart, and it has been suggested that the motif of the woman at the window depicts the goddess or her representative gazing out provocatively from her chamber. Additionally, the crossed lines on the frontlet of The Jewish Museum ivory are thought to be Ashtart's symbol.
Numerous caches of these types of inlays, some still in the original beds or couches, have been found throughout the Near East and Mediterranean, from Iran to Spain. They were most often discovered in royal palaces and temples or in the graves of the wealthy. Considered highly valuable, they were frequently seized as booty and carted off to distant capitals. A large group of ivory inlays, including one depicting the woman at the window, were found at Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and date to the same period as The Jewish Museum ivory. It was perhaps the close ties between Phoenicia and King Ahab, who married the Phoenician princess Jezebel, that enabled the acquisition of such expensive items by an Israelite king and his descendants.
Italy, 18th-early 19th century Marble: inlaid with cut stones 38 1/2 x 57 3/4 x 2 1/4 in. (97 13/16 x 146 11/16 x 5 11/16 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Gift in memory of Curtis Hereld; Edward and Helene Toledano Fund; Traditional Judaica Acquisitions Committee Fund; Dennis Stein Bequest; Judaica Endowment Fund; Phil and Norma Fine Fund; Gift in memory of Frieda and Felix Warburg and Edward M.M., 2007-1
F. R. Provincial England or English Colonies, c. 1800 Silver: cast, chased, and parcel-gilt Each: 17 15/16 x 5 in. (45.6 x 12 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of Jacobo Furman in memory of his wife, Asea, 1992-144a-b
These finials are one of the museum's treasures not only for the elegance of their design, but also for their rarity; only a few examples of colonial Judaica are known.
Thomas Sully (American, b. England, 1783-1872)
Sally Etting, 1808
Oil on canvas 30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York 30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm) Gift of William Wollman Foundation, F 4610
Born to a successful and politically active Jewish family with ties to both Philadelphia and Baltimore, Sally Etting (1776 1863) is portrayed in the fashionable Roman-inspired clothing and coiffure of Neoclassicism, style appropriate to the aspirations and ideology of the early American republic. Her brother Reuben (1762 1848) held the duties of a full citizen in Maryland in 1798, at a time when Jew lived there by license rather than right, and became the first Jew in Maryland to hold public office. Etting's second brother, Solomon.
San'a (Yemen), 19th-20th century Silver: granulated, filigree, parcel-gilt, appliqué, engraved, and punched; glass 3 7/8 x 22 3/8 in. (9.9 x 56.8 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, by exchange, 1994-76
This kind of necklace made by Jewish silversmiths was known as a ma’anageh and was worn, twisted in the middle, on festive occasions by Jewish girls and women from San’a. An unusual aspect of this necklace is the biblical inscriptions engraved on the back of the two triangular end panels. These amuletic texts may have been added later, possibly in Israel.
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (German, 1800-1882)
The Return of the Volunteer from the Wars of Liberation to His Famile Still Living in Accordance with Old Customs (Die Heimkehr des Freiwilligen aus den Befreiungskriegen zu den nach alter Sitte lebenden Seinen), 1833-34
Oil on canvas 34 x 37 in. (86.4 x 94 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of Richard and Beatrice Levy, 1984-61
A wounded Jewish soldier returns to his Orthodox family after defending Germany against the Napoleoniacr mies in the Wars of Liberation of 1813-1815. He arrives on Sabbath afternoon, having violated Jewish law by traveling on the day of rest. His father turns from reading a Hebrew text to regard the military decoration on his son's chest, the Iron Cross, a Christian symbol. The painting highlights some of the conflicts that arose, mainly between the generations, as a result of emancipation. In its details, such as the home's furnishings, the scene evokes an earlier era when most Jews adhered to their faith and when all Germanic lands were united.
Manufacturer: Orivit-Aktiengesellschaft (1900-1905) Köln-Braunsfeld (Germany), 1900-05 White metal: cast and silver-plated; glass: mold formed 13 7/8 x 12 3/4 x 5 5/16 in. (35.3 x 32.4 x 13.5 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman (?), F 3573
Theresa Bernstein (American, b. Austria, 1890-2002)
Waiting Room Employment Office, 1917
Oil on canvas 239 1/2 x 49 1/2 in. The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of Soledad and Robert Hurst, 2011-8
Theresa Bernstein depicted the immigrant experience in her portrait of a diverse group of newly arrived women seeking household employment. As a late participant in the Ashcan School, a group of realist artists working in New York just before World War I, Bernstein captured the immediacy of urban life through her predominantly working-class subjects, focusing mainly on women.
Mezuzah Cover of Mas’uda Lakhriyef Morocco, 20th century Silver: engraved and pierced 10 1/4 x 7 in. (26 x 17.8 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Judaica Acquisitions Fund, 1997-170
Raphael Soyer (American, b. Russia, 1899-1987)
Dancing Lesson, 1926
Oil on canvas 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, 2008-225
With affection and wit, Raphael Soyer shows his sister Rebecca and twin brother Moses dancing to the accompaniment of a harmonica played by his youngest brother Israel. His parents sit and observe the Americanization of their children, his mother putting aside her Yiddish newspaper for a moment to watch. A framed photograph of his grandparents hanging on the wall behind them emphasizes the distance traveled, both symbolically and geographically, between the old world and the new.
Reuven Rubin (Israeli, b. Romania, 1893-1974)
Goldfish Vendor, 1928
Oil on canvas 29 1/2 X 24 in. (74.9 x 61 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of Kitty and Harold J. Ruttenberg, 1985-227
Reuven Rubin was the preeminent artist in Israel in the second quarter of the 20th century. Rubin first came to Jerusalem to study at the Bezalel Sicnh in 1912, but ultimately he broke with the school's conservative tendencies and concern with biblical subjects. The artist turned instead to his for new land inspiration, striving to become part of the Orient, which he viewed as a powerful source of national and existential renewal. Here, Rubin uses a deliberately nave style with a Middle Eastern quality to portray an Arab fisherman. The painting is peaceful and harmonious scene evinces the artist's utopian nationalism.
Albert Bloch (American, 1882-1961)
March of the Clowns, 1941
Oil on canvas mounted on composition board 36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Oscar and Regina Gruss Memorial Fund, 2001-42
Albert Bloch was the only American-born member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a Munich-based group of Expressionist artists that included Wassily Kandinsky. Bloch joined in 1911 and exhibited with the group until the end of World War I, when he returned to America. Painted in March 1941 of the Clown is a darkly comical response to the horrors of Nazi Europe. Despite its creation at the height of Hitler s power, this work anticipates his defeat with a celebratory parade of jesters and cartoon characters.
This work is one of seven largely abstract paintings from Morris Louise's Charred Journal Series, a commentary on the Nazi book burnings. Louise's work is a way to provide insight into his moral and political concerns, this painting is also unique in reflecting his Jewish identity. The blackened back-ground is reminiscent of burnt paper, from which rise white letters, numbers, agitated swirls, and sets an example from the series, a Jewish star. These arrised his white letters and symbols as rising like ashes from the charred page; they may also be seen as metaphors for resistance and survival.
Vera List (1908-2002) was an active collector of contemporary art and a long-time trustee of The Jewish Museum. One of Rivers’s early three-dimensional assemblages, the Portrait of Vera List is roughly fashioned and retains his characteristic gestural brush work. Expanding on the Cubist idiom, the artist exploits the sliding panes of a commercial storm window which can be moved to reveal different images. Rivers makes no attempts to idealize his sitters. Instead, his portraits convey the masterfully unfinished qualities distinctive of his style.
Synagogue Wall Sculpture
Creation Ibram Lassaw (American, b. Egypt, 1913-2003) United States, 1956-57 Wire covered with bronze rod and copper sheet 140 x 372 x 14 in. (355.6 x 944.9 x 35.6 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Contemporary Judaica Acquisitions Committee Fund; Dr. Harry G. Friedman, by exchange; Mrs. Bernhard Kahn, by exchange; Judaica Acquisitions Fund; and Dorothy George Baker, by exchange, 2006-58
Moshe Zabari (Israeli, b. 1935) New York, New York, United States, 1969 Silver: raised and forged; pearls Height: 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm) Diameter: 15 3/8 in. (39 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Gift of the Albert A. List Family, JM 85-69
The tops of Torah scrolls are often ornamented with crowns, particularly for special occasions such as festivals. Last ninth century Babylonian sources describe women using their jewelry to decorate Torah scrolls; in the late 12th century Rabii Abraham ben Nathan encouraged synagogues to commission crowns specifically for the Torah. This contemporary example departs in design from traditional crowns, which were modeled after royal regalia. Instead, Zabari’s design embodies a modernist aesthetic emphasizing purity of form. While many traditional crowns hid the tubes that fit the crown to the staves of the Torah, Zabari chose to leave these exposed and draw attention to the staves, known in Hebrew as “trees of life.”
Being the Light
Matthew McCaslin (American, b. 1927) New York, New York, United States, 2000 Light bulbs, porcelain light fixtures, metal electrical conduit, switches, and metal receptacle box 62 x 44 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. (157.5 x 113.7 x 26.7 cm) The Jewish Museum, New York Purchase: Contemporary Judaica Acquisitions Committee Fund and Judaica Acquisitions Fund , 2001-14a-j
At first glance this work by Matthew McCaslin appears to be a weird and whacky sculpture made from light bulbs, switches, and yards of metal electrical conduit. However, it is in fact a fully functioning Hanukkah lamp. There are nine light bulbs, connected to a set of eight switches, and a ninth switch set apart that serves as the shamash, or servitor, which “kindles” the other lights. The artist literally transforms these industrial materials, bringing them out of hiding “into the light,” a most appropriate expression for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.