Torah Ark Curtain

Simhah, Wife of Menahem Levi Meshullami1680/81 (date of inscription)

The Jewish Museum, New York

The Jewish Museum, New York
New York, United States

This is an extraordinary Torah curtain because of its impressive size, beautiful workmanship, and unusual iconography. According to the dedicatory inscription at bottom center, the curtain was made in the year 'He shall carry away a blessing from the Lord' (Psalms 24:5; chronogram for the year 1680/81), the work of…Simhah, wife of… Menahem Levi Meshullami.

The dedication reaffirms the significant role played by Italian Jewish women in the creation of synagogue textiles, even among very wealthy and prominent families such as the Meshullami, one of the first Jewish families to settle in Venice.

The decoration of the border, a symmetrical flowering vine, is an elaborate version of a motif found on many smaller textiles such as Torah binders and reader's desk covers. Neither is the motif of the Tablets of the Covenant surrounded by a glory of clouds unusual; it is found on many Italian Torah curtains of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is a Baroque convention for the presentation of a holy object or personage. On this curtain, however, the clouds are above a landscape. The Tablets emerging from the glory link it to a mountain, which is identified by another quotation from Psalms as "the mountain that God has desired for His abode" (Psalms 68:17). The reference in this passage is not to Mount Sinai, where the Tablets were received, but to Mount Moriah, on which the Temple was built. Thus the mountain on this curtain has a dual iconographic function: it is the locus for the giving of the Tablets and a link to the representation of Jerusalem below.
Only one other Torah curtain has similar decoration. Still the property of the Venetian Jewish community, its iconographic elements include Mount Sinai represented by three peaks on Byzantine paintings. The curtain was created by Stella Peragia in 1673. The greater detail and naturalism of the Peragia curtain and its earlier date suggest that it was the model for the Meshullami composition, in which the forms are more stylized and disjointed.

What is unusual about these two curtains is the detailed representation of Jerusalem, unique in Torah curtain iconography, but common on another type of seventeenth-century Italian Judaica, decorated ketubbot, or marriage contracts. Since the Italian Jewish marriage ceremony includes the recitation of Psalm 128, which mentions Jerusalem, and remembrances of the city's destruction conclude every Jewish wedding, depictions of the city were appropriate to the decoration of the contracts displayed at the ceremony.

The exact source of the curtains' representations of Jerusalem (distinguished by the elaborate towers at each juncture of the walls and by the main gates in the form of aediculae) has not yet been identified. There is no doubt, however, that its use on the curtain was inspired by the decorations of ketubbot, creating an iconographic link between two forms of Judaica prominent in the lives of women.


  • Title: Torah Ark Curtain
  • Creator: Simhah, Wife of Menahem Levi Meshullami
  • Date Created: 1680/81 (date of inscription)
  • Location: Venice, Italy, Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: 85 1/16 × 55 3/16 in. (216.1 × 140.1 cm)
  • Type: Ceremonial Art
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Silk: embroidered with silk and metallic thread; metallic fringe

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