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The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy

Solomon Alexander Hart (British, 1806-1881)

The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy, 1850

  • Oil on canvas
  • 55 5/8 x 68 3/4 in. (141.3 x 174.6 cm)
  • The Jewish Museum, New York
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Gruss, JM 28-55

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The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy

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The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy

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In Solomon Alexander Hart's painting, worshippers at the synagogue in the city of Leghorn ("Livorno" in Italian), Italy, ceremoniously carry ten beautifully decorated Torah scrolls in celebration of Simchat Torah. Clothed in Asian turbans, middle-eastern robes, and European cloaks, the congregants represent the diverse Jewish community of this port city. The women, however, are not seen; they were probably seated in a balcony or behind a screen, as traditional Jewish practice prohibits men and women from praying together.

Hart brings an air of grandeur to the painting. The high arches, columns, and gold and silver hanging lamps suggest a dignified and sumptuous interior. Hart's depiction of the synagogue was based on drawings he had made during a visit to Italy several years earlier. Originally built in 1591, the Leghorn synagogue was lavishly redecorated in the 18th century. During World War II, the synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis.

The composition brings the viewer's eye directly to the key element of the painting, the regal procession of the Torah scrolls. The leader of the procession stands in the center of the painting, drawing the attention of the congregants on either side. He is illuminated by the white prayer shawl draped around him and the light reflecting off the white balustrade of the raised bimah behind him. The richly colored mantles and gleaming ornaments of the scrolls trailing behind him further highlight the central action of the painting.