- Johann Valentin Schüler, Frankfurt, 1680-c. 1700. The offered lot.
- Johann Valentin Schüler, Frankfurt, possibly 1681. Jüdisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, JMF 87-79 (Annette Weber, “Splendid bridal gifts from a sumptuous wedding ceremony of 1681 in the Frankfurt Judengasse”, Jewish Art 19/20 (1993/4): p. 168).
- Johann Valentin Schüler, Frankfurt, 1680-c. 1700. The Israel Museum, Tel Aviv, Steiglitz Collection 118/885 (Chaya Benjamin, The Stieglitz Collection: Masterpieces of Jewish Art, no. 134).
- Attributed to Johann Valentin Schüler, Frankfurt, late 17th c. Recorded in 1939 in the Max Frankel Collection (M. Narkiss, The Hanukkah Lamp, Bezalel Publish Col, Jerusalem, 1939, illus.)
- Johann Michael Schüler, Frankfurt, c. 1700. Musée de Cluny, Paris, Rothschild gift, Collection Strauss no. 5, Cl. 12241 (Catalogue raisonné de la collection juive du muse de Cluny, no. 26, pp. 35-37).
- Johann Adam Boller, Frankfurt, 1706-1732. The Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Mrs. Felix Warburg, S563 (Norman L. Kleeblatt and Vivian B. Mann, Treasures of the Jewish Museum)
- Johann Adam Boller, Frankfurt, 1706-1732. The Jewish Museum, New York, gift from the Estate of Alice B. Goldschmidt, 1983-160 (illustrated Kleeblatt and Mann, op. cit., fig. 23)
The group comes from a narrow circle of Frankfurt workshops: that of Johann Valentin Schüler (master 1680), his brother Johann Michael Schüler (master 1684), and the latter’s brother-in-law Johann Adam Boller (master 1706). The brothers’ father was Michael Schüler, also a silversmith. Johann Valentin was born in 1650, apprenticed in 1666 to Jacob Rap, and in 1680 married Anna Margaretha Güldenmundt, daughter of a shoemaker; they had three children. Scheffler records Johann Valentin as being buried in 1720.
The model and its silver-gilt finish are derived from Biblical descriptions of the seven-branched candelabrum in the Tabernacle of the Temple: “Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them.” (Exodus 25:31). The spreading branches also evoke the tree of life, itself a symbol for the Torah. The Midrash on Deuteronomy states, “As the oil (of the menorah) gives life to the world, the words of the Torah bestow life to the world. As this oil lights up the world, the words of the Torah enlighten the world. The Torah is a Tree of Life and a Menorah” (R. Wischnitzer, Gestalten und Symbole in der jüdischen Kunst (Berlin 1935), pp. 59-60, cited Weber, op. cit., p. 178).
The finial on all seven of the lamps is formed as Judith with the head of Holofernes. In addition to the Judith story as being another example of the Jews triumphing over the enemies, like the Hanukah story itself, Chaya Benjamin records additional links between Judith and the festival, as the heroine was descended from the Hasmoneans, and she is honored as part of the “Festival of the Maidens” on the seventh night of Hanukah in some Mediterranean Jewish cultures.
The lamp by Johann Valentin Schüler in the Steiglitz Collection at the Israel Museum is closest stylistically to the offered example. The pattern of balls and buds on the arms, the bulbous shaft, and knop of S-scroll brackets are all shared by both. Even closer is the square base chased with acanthus at the corners, open brackets, and shaped shell and foliate feet. These feet also occur on the lamp in the Frankfurt Jewish Museum which Annette Weber has associated with a wedding in 1681; if so, these three could represent the initial conception of the model, which would be altered and developed by Johann Valentin, his brother, and Boller over the three decades.
The laws governing the Frankfurt ghetto were supposed to restrict its population to 500 families, with a maximum of 12 marriages per year. However, the reality of the extensive Jewish population made the ghetto one of the most densely populated places in Europe. Families of Court Jews and recent immigrants from farm communities were all crowded together into the short stretch of the Judengasse. The wealth and importance of the community can be judged, though, by the impressive silver pieces created for it (by Christian craftsmen), and the official recognition from 1718 of the representatives of the ghetto by the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna.
Sumptuary laws give another insight into the richness of the Frankfurt community, and the larger role of a family’s silver pieces. In 1715 – after the terrible 1711 fire which almost totally destroyed the ghetto – the Jewish Council restricted what silver objects could be displayed at the Spinholtz, the reception held at the bride’s house on Friday afternoon before the Saturday evening ceremony. The three permitted forms were a leuchter, a lamp, and a becher, presumably the Sabbath light, the Hanukah lamp, and the Kiddush beaker (Weber, op. cit., p. 174). Thus, these forms were not just for private devotion, but had a public display role, proclaiming the wealth and magnificence of the families involved. Given that, it is easy to understand the splendor the Jews of baroque Frankfurt demanded of their preferred silversmiths.
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