NEW YORK, NY.- The Jewish Museum
launched a new series of exhibitions focused on individual works in its world-renowned collection. Over the course of seven exhibitions, from 2013 to 2017, The Jewish Museum's curators will explore objects that highlight the breadth and diversity of the collection, ranging from an iconic Alfred Stieglitz photograph to a Moroccan wedding costume and a painting of a Passover seder by Carnegie Prize-winner Nicole Eisenman. These intimate Masterpieces & Curiosities exhibitions will provide new insights into works from the Museum's collection-contextualizing, examining, and rethinking the piece on view by surrounding it with other artworks, documents, and source materials.
The first exhibition in this series, Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Medieval Aquamanile, focuses on an extremely rare, late twelfth-century bronze lion aquamanile, recently acquired from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection sale at Sotheby's in April 2013. Aquamanilia are imaginatively-shaped pitchers containing water for washing hands. The later addition of a Hebrew inscription transformed this particular example into a Jewish ritual object probably for use in a synagogue. The exhibition examines the social contexts in which the aquamanile was created and used, and explores issues it raises about valuation, sanctification, and cultural borrowing.
The aquamanile is being displayed for the first time since its acquisition, accompanied by several objects that were similarly converted from secular to religious use-including a Hanukkah lamp created from a military helmet plaque and a pewter dinner plate adapted into an intricately-engraved ceremonial object for Passover meals. Also on view is a pair of blessing hands from a nineteenth-century American Torah ark that depict the type of ritual in which the aquamanile was likely used. As part of the synagogue service on certain occasions, a descendant of the priests of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem blesses the congregation, spreading his hands in the gesture seen in this pair of carved wooden hands.
Oversize images of a manuscript illustrating a hand washing ritual and related aquamanilia from other museum collections will be displayed along one wall of the gallery. The exhibition will also feature a large reproduction of an X-ray providing clues about the aquamanile's creation, use, and repair over its eight-hundred-year history.
The Masterpieces & Curiosities series, organized by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs and Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant, is scheduled to run through 2017.