by J J Cohen
(a press release forwarded to me by S. Rees Jones)
MEDIEVAL SILVER AND JEWELS OF A PERSECUTED JEWISH COMMUNITY ON DISPLAY IN THE UK FOR THE FIRST TIME
Treasures of the Black Death: 19 February – 10 May 2009
Press view: 18 February, 9.30 – 11.30am
Two extraordinary hoards of jewellery, medieval silver vessels and coins, one discovered 650 years after it was concealed, probably by Jews at the most perilous time in their history prior to the Holocaust, go on display in Britain for the first time in ‘Treasures of the Black Death’ at the Wallace Collection from 19 February.
The two hoards include the three earliest known examples of Jewish wedding rings, inscribed in Hebrew with the words ‘good fortune’ and in the form of miniature houses, symbolizing both the marital home and the Temple of Jerusalem. They were discovered in the Jewish quarter of Colmar, France, in 1863 and in Erfurt, Germany, in 1998, close to the town’s 11th-century synagogue, the oldest in Europe. This treasure would have continued to lie hidden if it had not been for archeological excavations for a block of flats.
In the 14th century, Erfurt was an important Jewish settlement with a Jewish community well integrated into town life. Members of the community held important positions and were protected by the local bishops and kings. Despite this, as the plague known as the Black Death approached, old associations were quickly replaced by mass paranoia.
As the Black Death laid waste to vast swathes of Europe, wiping out a third of the population, terrified local people, unable to find a cause for the suffering, searched for a scapegoat. Suspicion and fear immediately fell upon the Jewish population, who were accused of poisoning the wells. Many Jews buried their most precious belongings, hoping to return later, but poignantly, as a result of ensuing large-scale pogroms throughout Europe, never returned to reclaim them. 1000 were killed on a single day in Erfurt, 2 March 1349.
As well as shedding new light on another dark chapter in Europe’s history, the objects illuminate both the lives of the Jewish communities who buried them and the wider picture of medieval fashion and craftsmanship. Many pieces are very intimate and extremely personal. As well as the wedding rings, the exhibition will include ‘double cups’ used in the wedding ceremony and betrothal gifts. These add an even more poignant and tragic perspective to the story.
Aside from the pieces of jewellery, the coinage and silverware tell us a great deal about the society of the time. The diverse coinage from all over Europe found in Erfurt, reveal the town to be at the centre of a fluid, integrated and thriving economy. The silverware is vital in elucidating the work of the secular medieval silversmith. Created for fashion and regular use, these objects were not meant to last. Whilst we retain an important collection of religious silverware, this exhibition will provide a perfect time capsule of secular pieces of the period. One fascinating object is the only surviving medieval toilet set in the world. The silver bottle once contained three beauty accessories, but the only one surviving is an ear cleaner. It is totally unique, bearing a long chain so it could be worn around the waist.
The exhibition will illustrate the grandeur of medieval fashion and craftsmanship and tell the story of the tragic circumstances that led to the hoard’s concealment. Following the Wallace Collection’s exhibition the works from Erfurt will go on permanent display at the former synagogue in the city.
The Wallace Collection owns one of the richest and most interesting collections in Britain of art from this period, making it an ideal venue for the exhibition. It was Sir Richard Wallace who extended the Collection’s chronological range back to medieval times when, during the 19th century, there was an enormous growth of interest in medieval and Renaissance art.
PRESS INFORMATION: Jeanette Ward / Theresa Simon & Partners Ltd
020 7734 4800 / 07729 930 812 / firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTES TO EDITORS:
1. The major sponsor of the exhibition is J Leon Group.
2. The exhibition is curated by Christine Descatoire of the Musée national du Moyen Âge – Thermes et hôtel de Cluny, Paris. It was shown in Paris as ‘Tresors de la peste Noire’, in a similar form in 2007.
3. A full illustrated catalogue (ISBN 0900785950) is available to accompany the exhibition, with essays by Christine Descatoire, Karin Sczech and Marian Campbell, among others.
When: 19 February – 10 May 2009
Opening Times: Open daily, 10am – 5pm
Where: The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1U 3BN
Eating: The Wallace restaurant is open on Friday & Saturday evenings until 10pm.
How to reach us: Tube: Bond St., Baker St. and Oxford Circus Bus: 2, 10, 12, 13, 30, 74, 82, 94, 113, 137, 274