Stieglitz Collection

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Painting by Maurycy Gottlieb

Personal objects

This section includes book bindings, boxes, jewelry, a medallion, seals, signet rings and amulets, a bowl, and a mortar. Some of them are gifts marking special occasions. Book bindings, such as the one inscribed with the initials of a bridal couple and their family emblems, were widely used in 18th-century Italy to encase daily, Sabbath and festival prayer books.

The Esther scroll folded in a miniature silver book cover is unusual (cat. no. 189). Among the printed books is a special, small prayer book from 1729, printed for "the poor youth of Amsterdam, who cannot read the tiny un-vowelled printed letters in the prayer books (cat. no. 245).

A 17th-century book binding from Augsburg in Germany was presented to a congregant after he delivered a sermon. The letters of the Hebrew word "Bible" are intertwined in the spine pattern of silver lacework (cat. no. 247).

Another book binding, by a Polish-Jewish artist, depicts the Binding of Isaac. The ornately lettered Hebrew inscription in niello, at the center, was damaged by a duty stamp (cat. no. 248).

An elaborate leather book cover is adorned with a silver plaque depicting the Binding of Isaac, and graced by a dedication inscription tooled in gold letters on red parchment. On its reverse side, inscriptions honoring the bridal couple are surrounded by vignettes of a marriage ceremony, a double-headed eagle, enamel decoration, and inscriptions in honor of the marriage (cat. no. 249).

Among the wedding gifts are two lavishly decorated boxes, probably for jewelry. The first (cat. no. 250), from Germany, 1540, was created more than 400 years before the second (cat. no. 251), from New York, U.S.A., 1958. The German box, in the fashion of its day, is decorated with hunting scenes and inscribed with the Hebrew date and biblical verses from the liturgical Hebrew poem "A Woman of Valor (Eshet Hayil)". All panels of the golden American box are decorated with illustrations showing marriage scenes, and inscriptions with a humoristic, gently mocking flavor. It was created by llya Schor, the modern master silversmith who is represented in the collection by two other pieces: a ring (cat. no. 252) with motifs relating to the End of Days, and a brooch (cat. no. 253) showing Moses before the burning bush and smiting the rock.

A medal commemorating Moses Mendelsohn, designed by German-Jewish artist Abraham Abramson in 1774, is of both historical and artistic value (cat. no. 255). Among the seals, the triangular seal of Shlomo Hirschel, the Chief Rabbi of London in the early 19th century, is framed and suspended from a braided gold chain (cat. no. 254). Plain and signet rings are in the local styles of their period (cat. nos. 258-262).

Amulets are an ancient device for protection against evil. In Judaism, they are inscribed with formulas derived from the Ineffable Names of God, angels and incantations, written in full or abbreviated form. Metal amulets often take the form of jewelry – some of them, and particularly those from Muslim countries, reflect the styles of their lands of origin. The majority of the amulets in the collection are jewels. The amulet from 16th-century Italy (cat. no. 263) is made of cast and gilt bronze (ormolu) – this one-of-a-kind amulet was apparently made by a Renaissance artist.

Amulet cases are often amulets in their own right. Silver cases made in Italy at the beginning of the 18th century (cat. nos. 264-266) were usually designed and decorated in a style that resembled Italian Torah ornaments and book bindings of the same period.

With the exception of Italy, few metal amulets come from European countries, in comparison with Eastern and Islamic areas. An amulet from Europe (cat. no. 270) bears an inscription in Hebrew with a magical formula based on practical Kabbala tradition. Persian jewel amulets bear identical or slightly varied inscriptions. A common motif in Persian amulets is the shiviti or menorah amulet, featuring the seven-branched candelabrum engraved with letters from Psalms 67 (cat. no. 267). Angels' names decorated a silver amulet in niello (cat. no. 275). Variants of the Ineffable Name are engraved on a blue glass amulet (cat. no. 269), the inscribed belt buckle form (cat. no. 277), and a leaf-shaped golden amulet, set with and semi precious stones (cat. no. 278).

A unique amulet case of its type from Serbia (Ottoman Empire) is designed in the local style and recalls the metalwork of Torah ornaments made by Jewish silversmiths in Turkey (cat. no. 273).

Damascene work is represented by an amulet box (cat. no. 274) decorated with Hebrew inscriptions. A gold jewel amulet from Djerba inTunisia made for a woman has the abbreviated Hebrew letters: sameh and tet (a good sign) interwoven with its wire work pattern (cat. no. 276).

A bronze bowl and a bronze mortar from the late 16th century or early 17th century bear signatures of two molders, whose names suggest a Jewish origin. The first is Giuseppe de Levis from Verona. His name, as the molder, and the name of the city are cast on the side panel of a bowl designed and decorated in the style of the period. A medallion set at the base of the bowl depicts the scene "The Sea Monster" ("Das Meerwunder") from the known engraving of German Renaissance master Albercht Dürer (cat. no. 280). The second molder, Servius de Levis, is also of Verona. His name appears on a mortar (likely used for preparing medicine) decorated with the seven branch menorah and Hebrew letters (cat. no. 279). These two molders were most likely associated with the cast Italian Hanukkah lamps of the same period (cat. no. 124-5).