The eight light lamp (with a ninth light, the shamash, or servitor, often added), is used during the holiday of Hanukkah. Following ancient custom, a single light is kindled on the first night. Every night thereafter, the number of lights is increased by one, until on the last night, all eight lights are aglow.
A number of Italian cast lamps bear a representation of the heroine Judith in a prominent position. Judith came to have varying symbolism over the millennia among both Jews and Christians. According to Leone di Modena, writing in the seventeenth century, Italian Jews honored her at Hanukkah because she was a Hasmonean descendant. Earlier, in Renaissance Florence, Judith took on a secular symbolism, becoming the embodiment of civic virtue and the struggle of the citizens of Florence against Medici rule. This was exemplified by Donatello's sculpture of her, on whose pedestal was the following inscription: "Kingdoms fall through Luxury, cities rise through virtues; behold the neck of Pride severed by the hand of humility". The statue was eventually displayed in front of the city hall of Florence as a paradigm of the victory of the humble over the corruption of the mighty.
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.
The firm that created this lamp was the Wurttembergisches Metallwarenfabrik of Geislingen an der Steige, Germany, which is still in operation today. Around the turn of the last century it specialized in plated copper-alloy wares, including ritual objects and utensils. This lamp model first appeared in their pattern book of 1894/5.The baldachino (crown and canopy) and the scrollwork on this lamp are revivals from the Baroque period, and were common on much of the Judaica of the nineteenth century. The sofa form, evidenced by the rolled arms, was influenced by nineteenth-century Austrian lamps.
This lamp is made from the lost-wax process and therefore probably dates to the Renaissance. The crenellations across the top were derived from medieval architecture, seen, for example, in the fourteenth-century Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Their use on Hanukkah lamps goes back at least to the fifteenth century, when they were depicted on a lamp in an Italian Hebrew manuscript.
The inclusion of Judith in this late-eighteenth-century lamp may represent yet another association she engendered over time. The lamp was made in Breslau, which had been in Austria until it was seized by Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1741. In the political struggles that ensued, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria took on the qualities of a triumphant Judith standing up to a new Holofernes (Frederick) in the public imagination. Two oratorios about Judith were written around this time, possibly inspired by the empress, and became wildly popular. The renewed interest in Judith in this region, and possibly even Austrian loyalist tendencies, perhaps influenced the artist's and patron's choice of a heroic figure for this lamp.
The central decorative element on this lamp is the seven-branch menorah, flanked by two vases. The majority of lamps of this type bear two Hebrew inscriptions. The first, "The seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand" (Numbers 8:2), describes the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem. The second, "Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out" (Deuteronomy 28:6), is a reference to where the Hanukkah lamp should be placed. From ancient times, the lamp was supposed to be hung on the doorpost of one's home, to publicize the miracle that took place during the Maccabean revolt. As one entered the door, the lamp would be on the left, opposite the mezuzah. Although in later times many Jewish communities came to place the light indoors, Moroccan Jews have preserved the earlier tradition.
This unusual lamp is a three-dimensional rendering of the Garden of Eden, entered up a flight of stairs and through a portal. The garden is surrounded by a fence and palm trees. In the center is the Tree of Knowledge, filled with fruit, a snake wound around its trunk. According to the biblical story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were allowed to eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden except that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The snake, however, persuaded Eve to eat of that fruit, thereby plunging humankind into suffering and toil. Depictions of the Garden of Eden are found on one other group of Polish Hanukkah lamps in which both the Trees of Life and Knowledge appear.
The diagonal fluting on the body and arms of this lamp lends it a Moorish air, compounded by the oil containers that resemble Aladdin's lamps. In fact, the latter are in the form of Roman oil lamps, and are reminders of a method of lighting used in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word "rnenorah" actually means lampstand, and the seven- branch menorah originally served in the Temple as a stand to support individual oil lamps. This can be seen in representations in ancient Jewish art, for example, on a Roman burial plaque of the third or fourth century in The Jewish Museum.
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.
This lamp portrays two kneeling deer, their heads turned gracefully backward, their hooves touching an acanthus plant. Several of the decorative elements suggest an eighteenth-century date for this design scheme. Acanthus leaves became most popular in the Baroque period, while the oval frieze on the lower portion is characteristic of western Ukrainian architecture of the second half of the eighteenth century.
This particular type of hanging lamp, with its circular scrolls, buds, and palmette finial, was characteristic of Greece in the later nineteenth century. Examples with inscriptions and provenance come from Salonika in northern Greece, as well as from Corfu off the western Greek coast and from Cairo. Despite the complex political history of these three places, there was considerable movement of population and probably exchange of goods among them. Salonika was a major port city that served as a crossroads for trade with both east and west, and members of the large Jewish community, often half of the total population, were active as merchants and artisans.