Visu­al Arts

Five Cen­turies of Hanukkah Lamps from the Jew­ish Museum

Susan L. Braunstein
  • Review
By – July 30, 2012
Using mate­ri­als rang­ing from the finest sil­ver and gold to stone to glass to bul­let cas­ings, crafts­men and arti­sans over the cen­turies cre­at­ed Hanukkah lamps reflect­ing both the diver­si­ty and uni­ty of the Jew­ish peo­ple. About 550 exam­ples from the Jew­ish Museum’s col­lec­tion of more than 14,000 lamps are includ­ed in this hand­some and infor­ma­tive six-pound dou­ble-vol­ume. The book opens with 38 pages of illus­trat­ed nar­ra­tive trac­ing the his­to­ry of Hanukkah and its rit­u­als as well as styl­is­tic trends in meno­rah design. Rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion on some col­lec­tors who donat­ed lamps to the muse­um is includ­ed. The next 10 chap­ters high­light select­ed lamps from a broad range of peri­ods and coun­tries, includ­ing the Nether­lands, Ger­many, East­ern Europe, the Mid­dle East, Asia, and the Amer­i­c­as. Each entry includes a stun­ning full- to one-quar­ter page col­or pho­to­graph of the lamp along with a page of text dis­cussing the lamp’s known or pos­si­ble ori­gins and its his­tor­i­cal con­text, as well as any icons, archi­tec­tur­al detail, or oth­er ele­ments incor­po­rat­ed into its design. In the same chrono­log­i­cal order, Part 2 includes small­er pho­tos and more con­cise descrip­tions of hun­dreds of oth­er lamps, rang­ing from hum­ble to elab­o­rate to con­tem­po­rary and futur­is­tic. Maps, pho­tos of art­works inspired by the Fes­ti­val of Light, a glos­sary, and detailed indices make the book high­ly acces­si­ble to the aver­age read­er. The metic­u­lous detail offered through­out, includ­ing close-up pho­tos of stamped marks and artist sig­na­tures, make it a valu­able research tool to those with a pro­fes­sion­al inter­est in Jew­ish anthro­pol­o­gy, his­to­ry, antiques or art.
Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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