Copper in the Arts

December 2018

New Exhibit at The Jewish Museum Showcases More than 80 Rare Hannukah Lamps

By Paul David

The Jewish Museum recently unveiled Accumulations: Hanukkah Lamps, featuring more than 80 Hanukkah lamps representing four continents, and several rare works in copper and bronze. To date, The Jewish Museum's collection of Hanukkah lamps is the largest in the world, with more than 1,000 pieces acquired since the museum opened in 1904.

hannukah.jpgCopper Hanukkah Lamp, from The Rose and Benjamin Mintz Collection.

Photograph courtesy of The Jewish Museum. 

Through the centuries, the importance of Hanukkah has grown and with it the centrality of the lamp. The material that lamps should be made of has also been prescribed by rabbinical authorities, in order to fulfill the commandment in as beautiful a way as one could afford, using the most precious materials possible, ranging from gold, copper and silver to acorn shells. There were no restrictions on the manner of decoration. This has allowed artists, designers, and craftsmen great artistic freedom, often producing fantastical designs and shapes.

The Hanukkah lamps on view reflect a wide variety of stylistic influences and decorative techniques, from artists across the world.

Some exhibition highlights include a copper alloy Hanukkah lamp with a tower (coastal North Africa, 19th-20th century); and a copper alloy lamp (Morocco, second half 19th century) using the Middle Eastern motif of a hand or hamsa in the center of the lamp's backplate.

According to experts at the Jewish Museum, Judaica artists, inspired by trends in the art world, began to explore atypical materials and to reimagine the traditional forms of ceremonial art. Hanukkah, a festive holiday usually falling in December, commemorates the liberation of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem from repressive Greek rule in 164 BCE. Two divinely inspired miracles occurred during that fight for freedom - the military victory of a small band of Jewish soldiers against the might of their Greek ruler, and the one-day supply of sanctified oil in the rededicated Temple lamp that lasted for eight days. The holiday is observed through the kindling of lights for eight nights. Over time, a specialized Hanukkah lamp, or menorah, has evolved for this ritual, consisting of eight light holders and a ninth to kindle the other eight.

The exhibition is organized by Susan L. Braunstein, Senior Curator, The Jewish Museum, and on view through February 9, 2020.

Resources:

The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Ave. at 92nd St., New York, NY.

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