Transformational Gift Spans Three Centuries of Jewish Decorative Arts
BOSTON, MA—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), announces that it has acquired the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Collection, a transformational gift of Judaica comprising 119 decorative and ritual objects. The gift showcases an incredible array of works that greatly enhance the Museum’s holdings of Judaica, which now feature pieces from the 18th through the 20th century from Europe, Asia, Israel and America—including metalwork, works on paper, textiles, ceramics, sculpture and paintings. A selection of the newly acquired works is now on view in the Museum’s European galleries, featuring objects that demonstrate the continuity of Jewish traditions over hundreds of years. Further information about the works in the Schusterman Collection is available at mfa.org/judaica-gift.
The gift was made by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who, together with her late husband, Charles, established the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. The collection represents one of the largest and most varied Judaica collections in a major American encyclopedic museum. It includes 71 pieces of silver and metalwork, five works on paper, seven textiles, three paintings, three sculptures and numerous examples of ceramics. Among the diverse objects are 31 Hanukkah lamps in a variety of materials, 22 spice containers, six silver amulet cases, eight pairs of silver Sabbath candlesticks and a brass standing Sabbath candelabrum.
“This foundational gift establishes the MFA as one of a very few encyclopedic art museums in America working to build a collection of Judaica,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum. “The varied and engaging works––some splendid, some simple—will enliven our galleries and engage our audiences both in the Museum and on our website.”
The works in the Schusterman Collection represent pieces that were meant to be used in the home—rather than in a synagogue or temple setting—where the celebration of Jewish holidays and rituals has long been enriched by precious decorative domestic objects. Two Spice Towers (one from late-18th-century Poland; the other from Bohemia in about 1810) on view in the Angelica Lloyd Russell Gallery (Europe, 1700–1800) would have held the spices that perfumed the air at the Havdalah ceremony, which marks the conclusion of the Sabbath at sunset on Saturday night. The open design allows the scents to escape, sweetening the transition back to the regular days of the work week.
Hanukkah lamps are another important ritual object, which would have been lit during the eight-day celebration of the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE. A silver Hanukkah lamp (about 1760, Roetger Herfurth) from Frankfurt is a highlight of the collection, presenting a pair of lions flanking a central cartouche with a lit menorah. Also on view in the Russell Gallery is a silver Hanukkah lamp (late 18th century) from Berlin, which features delicate decoration and a charming Rococo back-plate. The pieces show the virtuosity of silversmiths producing luxury objects for the Jewish community across Europe in the years around 1800.
“The pieces in this collection represent the familial and communal aspects of Jewish life that have powerfully linked generations,” said Lynn Schusterman, donor of the Schusterman Collection and chair of the Schusterman Family Foundation. “I hope that by sharing these cultural treasures, more people will be inspired to explore Judaism’s rich history and traditions.”
In the Lorna and Robert Rosenberg Gallery (Europe, 1830–1900), five works on view from the Schusterman Collection are associated with Jerusalem’s Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts (known today as the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design). Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movements in England, Europe and America, Bezalel artists sought to reform art through craftsmanship that would touch all aspects of life. A pair of highly decorated silver Sabbath candlesticks (probably 1920s, Jerusalem) would have been lit as part of the weekly ritual marking the Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday. Decorated with applied filigree work and etched decorations—common techniques used in the Bezalel silver workshops—the candlesticks are marked in the front with the Hebrew words “Bezalel Jerusalem.” This inscription can also be seen on a smaller pair of silver Sabbath candlesticks (Jerusalem, probably 1920s), which would have been used either at home or, given their size, perhaps when travelling. Also on view in the gallery is a Spice container (1920s) by Yehia Yemini (1896–1983)––who was part of the first department of silversmiths established at Bezalel.
Seeking to create a uniquely Jewish style, the Bezalel School was closely linked with Zionist ideals of re-establishing a Jewish homeland in Israel and creating a national cultural identity. Named for the Biblical craftsman Bezalel, whose building of the Tabernacle is described in the book of Exodus, the School was composed of various workshops, including silversmiths, textile workers and book illustrators. Two Hanukkah lamps from the Schusterman Collection, also on view in the Rosenberg Gallery, are also excellent examples of the intricate Bezalel style. A Hanukkah lamp (around 1920) designed by Ze’ev Raban (1890–1970), one of the founding members of the Bezalel School, features typical decorative elements such as a running frieze of traditional Jewish motifs and a relief illustrating the lighting of the menorah and the rededication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee. A 1920s Hanukkah lamp by Yehia Yemini––which also displays a relief representing the rededication of the Temple––includes a highly polished back plate embellished with applied filigree work and colored stones.
“This gift from Lynn Schusterman transforms the Museum's holdings,” said Marietta Cambareri, Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture and Jetskalina H. Phillips Curator of Judaica, Art of Europe. “The superb collection represents a new area of collecting for the Museum and will allow us to present to our public a wide range of material that illuminates the history of Jewish culture and practice through works of art.”
Prior to this gift, the Museum had 12 works of Judaica in the collection. The gift of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Collection ensures that MFA visitors will have the opportunity to explore centuries of Jewish culture through these fascinating examples of Judaica, and learn more about the works through gallery tours, educational programming and online resources.
The Schusterman Collection builds on groundwork laid in 2010, when the Museum received a significant bequest from Jetskalina H. Phillips for the study, acquisition and display of Judaica. The Philips bequest was used to establish a curatorship and purchase fund for Judaica, positioning the MFA to strengthen this important and previously underdeveloped area of collecting and education.
Additional highlights of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Collection include:
- Polish Sabbath Candlesticks (18th century), which evoke the twisted columns of Solomon’s Temple
- Eastern European Papercut with Blessings for Foods (19th century)—an intricately cut and colored work on paper
- Turkish silver Charity Box (19th century)
- Italian silver filigree Amulet case (19th century), which would have held an amulet with a protective verse and been placed over a baby’s crib—a typical Italian Jewish practice
- Rare, early Minton (English) porcelain Figure of a Jewish Peddler (1824-1828)
- Delft ceramic Passover and Sukkot plates (Dutch, 18th century)
- Juif Lisant (Jewish Man Reading) (1870)—an intimate painting by Eduoard Brandon, who showed in the First Impressionist Exhibition
- Miracle I (1947), a bronze sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz showing a figure praying before a menorah—inspired by the plight of a boat of European Jews trying to reach British Palestine, which was not permitted to dock
- Iranian porcelain Cups, Saucers and Dish (1851-52), with Hebrew inscriptions
- Mezuzah case (about 1950-1960) by the Polish-born American Ilya Schor, a major mid-20th century silversmith
- Three early-20th-century rugs made at the Bezalel School textile workshop
- Poster Proof for a Bezalel Exhibition (early 20th Century, Ze’ev Raban) showing the Biblical silversmith Bezalel crafting a menorah
- Hanukkah lamp (mid-20th century) and Pair of Sabbath Candlesticks (about 1960) by Ludwig Wolpert, who trained at Bezalel and was active at the Tobe Pascher silver workshop at the Jewish Museum in New York
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its encyclopedic collection, which includes an estimated 450,000 objects. The Museum’s collection is made up of: Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 9:45 p.m. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 p.m., weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays; otherwise $10. Wednesday nights after 4 p.m. admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). MFA Members are always admitted for free. The MFA’s multi-media guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit mfa.org or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.