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Israel Museum Restitutes Three Ancient Roman Gold-Glass Medallions
Gold-Glass Base, Roman Catacombs, 4th Century CE. Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by David harris.

JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum announced today the restitution of three gold-glass medallions dating from the fourth century CE, two from the catacombs in Rome and one discovered in Cologne, to the heirs of the Dzialynska Collection at Goluchow Castle in Poland. Of the three medallions, two are decorated with Jewish motifs, representing some of the earliest known depictions of Jewish symbols from the Second Temple to appear outside of the Land of Israel. Given the historical importance of the medallions to the Museum’s collections and to the patrimonial heritage of the State of Israel, the Israel Museum and the heirs have worked together to enable the Museum to repurchase one of the medallions with Jewish iconography for its permanent collection. The
second medallion bearing Jewish symbols has been purchased by a donor and friend of the Israel Museum, for long-term loan to the Museum.

Distinguished by iconic imagery of the Holy Ark, the Lions of Judah, and the Temple Menorah, these two medallions were identified in Vienna by the well-known Judaica dealer Joseph Steiglitz and were purchased for the Israel Museum in 1965 by founder Teddy Kollek through the generosity of Museum donor Jakob Michael, New York, in memory of his wife, Erna Sondheimer-Michael. The third was acquired by Teddy Kollek in Vienna at the same time and donated by Teddy and Tamar Kollek to the Israel Museum in 1970. Given their rarity and their archaeological significance, the two medallions with Jewish motifs have been featured on permanent display in the Israel Museum’s archaeology galleries and in several special exhibitions and publications, with Goluchow Castle identified as part of their history of ownership beginning with the 1986 publication, “Treasures of the Holy Land: Ancient Art from the Israel Museum.”

Previously in the collection of Cardinal Borgia during the 18th century, the two gold-glass medallions with Jewish motifs, together with the third medallion, became part of an important 19th-century holding of ancient glass assembled by Countess Isabella Dzialynska née Czartoryska at the Hôtel Lambert, her family home in Paris. She later moved the collection to her castle at Goluchow in Poland. Contemporaneous documents provided by the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which represents the heirs, record that during the Second World War, precious items from the collection, including the glasses, were taken for safekeeping to Warsaw where they were discovered and seized by the Nazis in 1941. In 1944 they were moved on Hitler’s orders to Castle Fischhorn in Zell am See, Austria where they were looted in the aftermath of the war. There is no record of the subsequent movements of the glasses until they were purchased in Vienna in 1965.

“The restitution of works of art that were stolen or unwillingly sold during the Second World War is a challenging, sensitive, and complex subject. It is therefore rewarding to be able to achieve a resolution in this case which restitutes title of these objects to their rightful heirs while also preserving two of them for the Museum’s collection,” states James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. “We are profoundly grateful to the following donors who both recognized the importance of our effecting this exemplary act of restitution and enabled us to maintain for our collection these two unique artifacts of ancient Jewish culture, which connect Jerusalem from Second Temple times with the early history of the Roman Diaspora: Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert, New York; The Legacy Heritage Fund, New York; Dr. Daniel Rosenberg, Lyon, France, in memory of his wife Jacqueline; and anonymous friends of the Museum, for the repurchase of the first glass for the Museum’s collection; and Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn, Zurich, for the purchase and long-term loan of the second glass.”

“We are very happy with the outcome,” said Count Adam Zamoyski, speaking in London on behalf of the heirs. “Although our purpose is to recover as many looted items as possible, with a view one day to recreating the Dzialynska Collection in Poland, we fully recognize the importance of the two glasses to the Jewish people and respect the wishes of the Israel Museum to keep them in Jerusalem.”

“We are delighted to have agreed the restitution and to have facilitated the retention by the Israel Museum of the two gold-glasses with their significant Jewish motifs,” said David Lewis and Anne Webber, Co-chairs of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which represents the rightful owners and negotiated the agreement. “Many works of art from this renowned collection are still missing and we hope that the news of this restitution may contribute to their location and recovery in the future.”

The Gold-Glass Medallions
Gold-glass medallions were first discovered in catacombs in Rome in the seventeenth century, embedded in the walls as tomb markers. Originally the bases of bowls or cups, these medallions were believed to have been used by the entombed individuals during their lives. The bases were prepared by a meticulous process through which gold leaf, affixed to a glass disk, was incised with intricate designs and then encased with a glass bubble to preserve the gold. Of the hundreds of surviving bases, many bear Christian motifs and fewer than twenty feature Jewish symbols.

The first glass medallion with Jewish imagery, which has been repurchased by the Museum and is illustrated on the first page of this release, features an ornate design in gold leaf set in a square frame, divided into two parts and further ornamented with red and blue decoration. The top scene features a Holy Ark with Torah scrolls, flanked by two crouching lions of Judah. The lower section depicts two menorahs surrounded by a lulav, etrog, shofar, myrtle and willow branches, and two amphoras. Across the top of the medallion reads a well-known Greek
benediction, which appears often on drinking vessels, in Latin letters, seemingly addressing the deceased: PIE ZESIS ELARES (“Drink and Live, Elares”).

The second medallion, which has been purchased by Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn and re-deposited with the Museum on long-term loan, features many of the same Jewish symbols as the first but in a different composition, encircled by a round frame. At the top is a large Holy Ark, with three Torah scrolls visible on each of its three shelves, flanked on either side by a bird on a globe. Below the Ark stands a large Menorah, with crouching lions to either side. A fragment of the medallion is missing.

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