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Lot 74

Handwritten, Illuminated Parchment Plaque – Names of Members of the Cleansing Chevra Kaddisha in Rome – Rome, 1816

Elaborate parchment plaque, handwritten and illuminated, with the names of the members of "chevra kaddisha shel rechitzah" (cleansing society). [Rome], 1816.
Ink and tempera on parchment, gilt.
Oval-shaped illuminated plaque of the cleansing society in Rome, a society which delt in the ritual cleansing and shrouding of the dead, and joining the prayers in the mourners' home during the seven days of mourning. Large illustration at the bottom, depicting thirteen men and one woman dressed in the finest early-19th century fashion, surrounding a shrouded dead, next to washing jugs and a casket.
Decorative illuminated geometric border; at the top – an illuminated baroque cartouche decorated with flowers and ribbons, stating: "These are the names of the men responsible for the washstand and its base for washing, the Cleansing Chevra Kaddisha... as elected on the 17th of Nissan 1816... renewed now in the days of the elder R. Shmuel Corcos... R. Yitzchak Di Cori and R. Avraham Yitzchak Tedesco in 1816".
Beneath the cartouche is an illuminated table listing the members of the society: Rabbi Leon [R. Yehuda Leon Rabbi of Rome], R. Shmuel Corcos, R. Gershon Yitzchak Ascarelli, R. Manoah (Tranquillo) son of David Voltera, R. Shmuel Yehuda Di Castro, R. Shabtai son of R. Chizkiyah Ambron, R. Yitzchak Berechiah Barrafaele, R. Shabtai Menachem Chaim Alatri, R. Shabtai Chaim Modigliani, R. Chananiah Esdra, R. Yitzchak Di Cori, R. Avraham son of Yechiel Tivoli, R. Shlomo Refael Tedesco, Manoah Corcos, R. David Velletri, R. Avraham Yitzchak Tedesco, R. Mordechai Ascarelli, R. Aharon Efrati, R. Mordechai Yosef Del Monte and R. Menachem Modigliani.
The fashionable dress of the figures in the illustration – breeches, tailcoats, waistcoats, stiff collars and elegant top hats – reflects the attitude of Italian Jewry to Italian culture, and its readiness to integrate financially, politically and culturally into the society and adopt its ways, ranging from art to leisure activities. This visual testimony to the material culture of Italian Jewry, in particular in regard to their dress, joins a drawing by Hieronymus Hess (1799-1850) from ca. 1823 depicting a synagogue in Rome during prayer time, where the Jews are portrayed dressed in a very similar fashion to those in the present plaque (though in a somewhat antisemitic and derisive vein).
In the period when this plaque was written, the cleasing society was one of the oldest and most established societies in Rome. Its leaders were wealthy merchants and prominent figures in the community – Manoah (Tranquillo) Voltera, Yitzchak Barrafaele who was the wealthiest person in the ghetto (Milano, 261), and members of the Ascarelli family; the society itself had considerable capital in form of real estate. The members of the society were split into two groups who exchanged tasks – one group worked on the ritual cleansing of the deceased, while the other prayed with the mourners.
A similar plaque documenting the cleansing society in Rome in 1801, bearing a mostly identical illustration, is held in the Israel Museum (L-B85.0056). The Israel Museum collection also includes another plaque, from Florence, 1776, listing the names of the members of the Metaharei Metim society, with an illustration depicting the cleansing of the deceased (B90.0108).
The present plaque is photographed in the book "The Life Cycle" by Shalom Sabar, p. 284.
Approx. 35.5X27 cm. Good condition. Minor blemishes to paint. Minor stains. Penciled inscriptions and pieces of paper pasted on verso.
1. Attilio Milano, The Ghetto of Rome. Tel Aviv: Sifriat Maariv, 1992.
2. Hermann Vogelstein, Paul Rieger, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, II. Berlin: Mayer & Müller, 1895.
3. Shalom Sabar, The Life Cycle. Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Ben Tzvi Institute, 2006.
Provenance: Private collection. Acquired by the present owner in Sotheby's, 17 May 1985.