The earliest example of this cast type of lamp with balustrade and fleur-de-lis decoration was dedicated to the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam in 1629/30. The type therefore originated in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, although it has continued in production until the present day. Several factors indicate this lamp type was favored by Sephardi Jews in the Netherlands: the provenance of the Amsterdam lamp from a Sephardi congregation, the Spanish names of several donors of similar lamps, and the Sephardi style of several of the inscription dates.
The inscription on the Jewish Museum lamp and the provenance that came with it provide a fascinating glimpse into Jewish life in the New World. The lamp had been in the possession of a Mendes Cohen of Baltimore, whose handwritten note mentioned that it "was found in a lot of old brass junk brought as merchandise in a vessel from Jamaica about 1850. Its previous history is unknown." The silver inscription plaque on the lamp memorializes Yaakov Israel Bravo, who had given it to a congregation, and is dated 1756/57. The most likely place to look for the origin of this lamp is in Jamaica, its first known provenance.
Jewish settlement in Jamaica was begun by Sephardi Jews before the British takeover in 1655. Jews prospered in the sugar and vanilla industries there, as well as in international trade, and one finds the name Bravo listed among the most prominent Jewish families in the eighteenth century (Jewish Encyclopedia, 7:66).Their origin is not stated, but three members of a London Bravo family were known to have emigrated to Jamaica between 1740 and the 1770s, and indeed there was considerable immigration from England (an offshoot of the Amsterdam community), Curaçao (where there was a Sephardi community of Dutch origins), and Germany. In Kingston, a new Sephardi synagogue, Shaar Hashamayim, was dedicated in 1750. The chronogram in the inscription on the lamp includes the words "Shaar Hashamayim" or "Gate of Heaven." Thus, it probably refers to this new synagogue. The likely reconstruction of the journey of this lamp is that it was imported from the Netherlands, either via an émigré from London or possibly via Curaçao. It was donated to the new synagogue around 1750. When the donor passed away in 1756/57, a silver plaque was added to the lamp that dedicated it to his memory. Around one hundred years later, the lamp was discarded as scrap brass and shipped to Baltimore, for reasons unknown. The synagogue was destroyed in a fire in 1882; so perhaps it was then and not the 1850s that the lamp was shipped to Baltimore.
The same type of lamp was dedicated to the Sephardi synagogue in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in 1770/71, which demonstrates that it was used by Caribbean communities and helps support the hypothesis of Jamaican provenance.
There are three subtypes of this lamp group. This lamp belongs to the earliest, in which there are dated examples from the seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century. They bear the Hebrew inscription "For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light," which is no doubt also inscribed on this lamp under the silver plaque.