Among the large brass synagogue lamps of Eastern Europe, one particular type was quite common, especially in Galicia. It had arms decorated with buds and applied cuplike flowers, following the biblical description of the first menorah made for the Tabernacle in the desert (Exodus 25:31–40). Departing from the biblical tradition, these lamps also had eagle finials and lion supports for the base. Flowers on ornate brackets were attached around the lower shaft, in form similar to those found on Galician/Ukrainian chandeliers, where they served as reflectors behind the candles. On the Hanukkah lamps, however, the flowers have been completely divorced from their original function, since they are nowhere near the candleholders. Instead, they create the suggestion that the menorah form is the Tree of Life, a common association in Judaism.
Copper alloy examples with inscription dates indicate that this type was popular in the second half of the eighteenth century. However, several silver versions were made in the latter half of the nineteenth century in Lvov, as represented in the collection by this magnificent example. It appears to be a copy of a nearly identical lamp that stood in the Przedmiejskiey Synagogue in Lvov until 1939, and which is said to have been made in Breslau in 1775. At least two other copies of this Lvov lamp were made around 1870.
The history of the museum’s lamp before its sale in Vienna in 1960 is unknown. However, it served a distinguished function more recently when, on December 10, 2001, it became the first Hanukkah lamp to be kindled by an American president in the White House residence.