Hanukkah Lamp

Unknown Artist/Maker18th to mid-19th century

The Jewish Museum, New York

The Jewish Museum, New York

It has always been presumed that this lamp and others like it, with their steeply pitched roofs and upper arcades, were imitations of eastern European wooden synagogues. These buildings had angled roofs of often elaborate and unusual forms. However, the façades of many of these Hanukkah lamps are decorated with an incised stone- or brickwork pattern, and therefore they could not have been modeled after wooden structures. Moreover, the symmetrical arrangement of the columns, door, and window is not characteristic of the synagogues in question. In actuality, the architectural elements seem to have been derived from several different prototypes, combining west and east, rural and urban, brick and wood. The overhanging roofs supported by columns above the central door, and the arched gallery above, were characteristic features of wooden homes in Poland, for example, in the city of Cracow. The distinctively shaped window above the doorway, which consists of an oval with two squared extensions, was characteristic of various eastern European log-built structures, including church belfries. This kind of window is also found in a Jewish context, over the doors of a baroque-style Torah ark in the synagogue of Zamosc in western Galicia. This was probably based on Baroque architectural models, in which oval windows were arranged above arched doors, as in the early eighteenth-century Belvedere Castle in Vienna.
By contrast, the presence of birds, possibly storks, and the occasional snake on the roofs suggests an East European model. They may derive from the carved ridge poles of Polish/Russian wooden structures, or from Polish folklore. The stork was highly esteemed and believed to be a kindred spirit of humans. A household upon whose roof a pair of storks chose to nest was considered blessed with good fortune, and if a public building such as a church was chosen, the whole community shared in the good luck.
In sum, it appears that these lamps may have been attempting to depict a Baroque structure, either a home or a synagogue, with elements added from local architecture, such as the overhanging roofs, galleries, and birds.
Only one dated example of this type has been published, and it is also the only example with a known provenance. It is a lamp from the synagogue of Buczaczu in Galicia and dated 1823. Further evidence of dating and origin of this type is present in the birds with their turned-back heads and pointed wings. These are quite similar to those on a cast hanging lamp from the Ukraine dated to the second half of the eighteenth century.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Hanukkah Lamp
  • Creator: Unknown Artist/Maker
  • Date Created: 18th to mid-19th century
  • Location: Ukraine, Europe, Poland, Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: 12 15/16 × 12 3/8 × 6 in. (32.9 × 31.4 × 15.2 cm)
  • Type: Ceremonial Art
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Copper alloy: cast, traced, punched, and appliqué