Hanukkah Lamp

Johann Valentin Schülerlate 17th century

The Jewish Museum, New York

The Jewish Museum, New York

This lamp is among the earliest silver backplate lamps that also have legs for placement on a table or windowsill. It can be dated within Schüler's period of production by the rounded, symmetrical style of the scroll decoration, which is typical of the early Baroque period of the late seventeenth century. Like the chest-shaped lamp, there is a resemblance between the form of this lamp and that of silver inkstands in Germany during the same period. These consisted of a closed box with feet, which usually contained the well for ink and a container of sand for blotting, and a backplate.

Having possibly adapted the form of a secular object to that of a Hanukkah lamp, with its requirement of eight lights, the silversmith Schüler added Jewish iconography as a central decorative motif on the backplate. The person represented is the biblical heroine Judith, whose courage, brains, and beauty enabled her to kill the enemy general Holofernes, who was besieging ancient Israel. The scene on the lamp depicts the moment when Judith, seeing Holofernes passed out from too much drink, cuts off his head. She will then place it in a sack that her maid holds open so they can secretly carry it out of Holofernes's camp.

Judith became a popular motif on German and Dutch Hanukkah lamps from the later seventeenth century through the eighteenth century. During this time, she was also the subject of numerous plays and oratorios throughout Europe. In art, drama, and music she had a complex persona, and often represented varied human qualities. During the Reformation of the early sixteenth century, Protestant leaders advocated a return to the biblical text, and particularly to the Hebrew Bible, as the source of all religious authority. Martin Luther promoted Judith as an appropriate subject to represent the triumph of virtue over evil. Counter-Reformation artists such as Lucas Cranach the Younger also represented her, but in a less flattering light. In yet another interpretation, Judith was included among other classical and biblical heroines who had made fools of men, a theme associated with Protestantism, which emerged in the sixteenth century.

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  • Title: Hanukkah Lamp
  • Creator: Johann Valentin Schüler
  • Date Created: late 17th century
  • Location: Fankfurt am Main, Germany, Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: 9 7/8 × 11 3/8 × 3 1/8 in. (25.1 × 28.8 × 8 cm)
  • Provenance: ?.(in France sometime between 1893 and 1970, based on French tax stamp). Mr. and Mrs. Michael M. Zagayski (acquired between 1940 and 1959); [sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York March 18-19, 1964, no. 305]
  • Type: Ceremonial Art
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Silver: repoussé, engraved, traced, punched, appliqué, parcel-gilt, and cast