Auction 92 Part 1 Rare and Important Items

Pair of Rare, Magnificent Textile Items – Italy, 18th Century – Torah Ark Curtain with Seven Species Design for Shavuot and Matching Reader's Desk Cover – Rhyming Inscriptions and High-Quality Embroidery on Velvet

Opening: $10,000
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000
Sold for: $37,500
Including buyer's premium

Pair of textile items – large Torah ark curtain depicting the seven species, and matching reader's desk cover – decorated with elaborate embroidery and corresponding, rhyming inscriptions. Italy, [18th century].
Embroidery with silver and gold metallic thread, wrapped metal thread and flattened metal thread on velvet, with cardboard cutouts; metal sequins; brocade ribbons; metallic and cotton fringe; cotton, linen, brocade and silk backing, some colored; brass suspension rings.
1. Large Torah ark curtain for Shavuot.
In the center of the elaborate embroidery is a sheaf comprised of ears of wheat and barley, and one branch of each of the following trees (the seven species), tied together with a ribbon: vine, fig, pomegranate (with embroidery on red velvet mimicking the seeds), olive and date. The sheaf is topped with the inscription "Parochet HaKodesh", and flanked by a rhyming inscription about the seven species, in two stanzas (despite some uncertainty as to how the poem should be read, it appears that the upper six lines form one stanza, while the lower six lines make up the second stanza). Wide, elaborate border, embroidered with foliate and floral designs, within and around dozens of medallions (some oval shaped) and half-medallions. The medallions are decorated with seven different alternate designs. Four large corresponding ornaments in the inner corners of the border.
Considering the widespread custom (still practiced in some Jewish communities today) of adapting the synagogue ceremonial objects to the time of the year, it appears that the present Torah ark curtain was created to glorify the ark during Shavuot (and perhaps until Sukkot?), since the Bikkurim offered on Shavuot in the Temple consisted of the seven species.

210X150 cm; 2.5 cm and 4 cm long fringes on lower edge. 8 brass suspension rings (lacking 3 rings). Overall good condition. Some blemishes, tears and old repairs. Wear and unraveling to embroidery, fringes and cloth backing.

2. Reader's desk cover.
Rectangular cover. The center of the cover is occupied by a wide pillar-like decoration (possibly alluding to the pillar of prayer), flanked by a rhyming inscription in two stanzas. The style of embroidery, the poetic text and the border ornaments all resemble those of the curtain. The upper border ornament of the cover is sewn along the top only, and serves as a kind of valance. The four corner ornaments inside the border are partially made from silk brocade ribbons. Sewn to the cover (along the upper edge only) is a large sheet of brocade, presumably intended to cover the back part of the reader's desk, and to secure the embroidered cover on the reader's desk.

123X93 cm + additional sheet of fabric: 175X125 cm. Fringes: 7 cm. Overall good condition. Some blemishes and minor tears. Wear and unraveling to embroidery, fringes and cloth backing.

Unique pair of rare, splendid textile items, with elaborate, high-quality embroidery and unusual artistic motifs. Both textile items, and especially the Torah ark curtain, are notable for the uniqueness of their design, which is almost unparalleled in the world of Judaica.
The style of the Torah ark curtain merges design traditions originating from communities of Spanish Jews in the Ottoman Empire, together with the rich Italian textile and embroidery traditions. Thus, for instance, the four corner ornaments were certainly influenced by Ottoman embroidery, which often uses a pattern made of a central medallion, border, and corner ornaments (influenced by the ornaments on bindings of Turkish books), while the outer border reflects the tradition of Italian ornamentation and embroidery. The sheaf at the center of the Torah ark curtain may have also been influenced by the Turkish-Ottoman Etz Chaim design (Bindalli), originally comprised of a vase or central stem with branches spreading out and filling the whole surface. The present Torah ark curtain – which was certainly used by a synagogue of Spanish natives in Italy – thereby testifies both to the close ties and to the collaboration between Italian Jewry and Turkish Jewry. The central motif of this curtain – a sheaf comprising the seven species, is also unique and unusual; no other Jewish textile item bearing a similar ornament is known to us. It must be noted that this curtain is also unique for its asymmetric composition, which differs significantly from standard Torah ark curtain designs (usually symmetrical, both horizontally and vertically). The free movement of the branches in the sheaf together with the abundance of leaves and fruit create a very live and vivid image, surprising in its vitality. Only one other Torah ark curtain depicting the seven species is known to us, dated 1736 (Museo Ebraico di Roma, Inv. 430), but in that case the fruit are depicted independently, in the outer border, rather than at the center of the curtain.
1. Esther Juhasz (ed.), Sephardi Jews in the Ottoman Empire: Aspects of Material Culture (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 1990), 65-119.
2. Vivian B. Mann (editor), Gardens and Ghettos, The Art of Jewish Life in Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, pp. 44-64.
3. Dora Liscia Bemporad, Olga Melasecchi (editors), Tutti i colori dell'Italia ebraica: tessuti preziosi dal Tempio di Gerusalemme al prêt-à-porter. Firenze: Giunti, Firenze musei, 2019, p. 154.

Jewish Ceremonial Art and Various Objects