Fotocollage von Michele Klein
Portrait Solomon David Schloss
Historical photo of spice boxes
Jewish ritual objects

Michele Klein, collage by Marva Gradwohl

Solomon David Schloss, from his granddaughter Peggy Spielman's album, Adam Spielman collection, London.

Jewish ritual objects exhibited at the Anglo-Historical Exhibition, London, 1887, among them a spice box from the Solomon David Schloss collection by Röttger Herfurth, c. 1750, Frankfurt. From the Catalogue of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition 1888, no. 1677 photo plate adjacent to page 101.

Part of Solomon Schloss’s collection of ritual Jewish silver, showing two objects now owned by the Jewish Museum of Switzerland: the Torah shield to the right of the round Friday evening plate (center) and the three-tiered spice tower, Photo: Ralda Hammersley-Smith, 1931. Schloss collection.

«To renew the old world – that is the collector’s deepest desire.»

The Scholar Michele Klein on Collecting Judaica

Judai­ca coll­ec­tions are the back­bone of Jewish Muse­ums. But who star­ted coll­ec­ting Judai­ca, when, and for what reason? Nao­mi Lubrich spo­ke with the scho­lar Miche­le Klein, who­se ances­tor Solo­mon Schloss was among the ear­ly Judai­ca coll­ec­tors and who has stu­di­ed the mar­ket for Judai­ca in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th centuries.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Dear Miche­le, your gre­at-gre­at-grand­fa­ther was among the first to coll­ect Jewish cere­mo­ni­al objects. What moti­va­ted him?

Miche­le Klein: Wal­ter Ben­ja­min, the Ger­man phi­lo­so­pher and coll­ec­tor of books, wro­te in 1931 about the pas­si­on of coll­ec­ting: «To renew the old world—that is the collector’s deepest desi­re.» I think that the loss of the old world play­ed an important role in the for­ma­ti­on of the coll­ec­tion of my ances­tor, Solo­mon David Schloss (1815–1911). His coll­ec­ting acti­vi­ty, from 1887 until about 1907, enab­led him to touch and revi­ve his memo­ries of the reli­gious world of his child­hood in Frank­furt, a world that was rapidly dis­ap­pearing in the face of moder­ni­ty and secularism.

NL: Who else was coll­ec­ting Judai­ca, and what kind of objects were meaningful to them?

MK: Alex­an­der David (1687–1765), a court Jew in Braun­schweig, is thought to have been the first pri­va­te coll­ec­tor to acqui­re fine appur­ten­an­ces to beau­ti­fy the per­for­mance of his reli­gi­on, tog­e­ther with other Jews, in the pray­er room in his home.

In the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, Bri­tish finan­cier Levi Salo­mons (1774–1843) built up a coll­ec­tion of some 400 Hebrew books and a dozen or more Torah and Esther scrolls. Bag­dad-born Ruben David Sas­so­on (1835–1905) acqui­red the Salo­mons ritu­al objects, which he added to tho­se that his fami­ly brought to Lon­don from the Far East. The media atten­ti­on given to Sassoon’s coll­ec­tion at the two Jewish his­to­ri­cal exhi­bi­ti­ons in Lon­don, in 1887 and par­ti­cu­lar­ly in 1906, was flat­te­ring. I think that for Sas­so­on, who beca­me the Prin­ce of Wales’s gambling agent and who­se Asi­an fami­ly made its wealth in the opi­um trade, the Judai­ca coll­ec­tion may have pro­mo­ted the family’s sta­tus among the Eng­lish Jewish elites.

The coll­ec­tion and dis­play of fine art and objets d’art exal­ted the sta­tus of the Jewish eli­tes in Euro­pe. For exam­p­le, in Vien­na, Baron Anselm Salo­mon Roth­schild (1803–1874) coll­ec­ted most­ly metal­work of the Nor­t­hern Renais­sance, exclu­si­ve items that embo­di­ed impe­ri­al magni­ficence and power. Moritz Oppen­heim ser­ved as Baron Anselm’s agent for the purcha­se of seve­ral exqui­si­te Ger­man sil­ver-gilt stan­ding cups, made in the ear­ly 17th cen­tu­ry, bea­ring Hebrew inscrip­ti­ons that reve­a­led the­se objects belon­ged to Jewish buri­al socie­ties in Worms, Press­burg (Bra­tis­la­va) and Alt-Ofen (Óbu­da) in the ear­ly 18th century.

Isaac Strauss (1806–1888), a vio­li­nist, con­duc­tor and com­po­ser, focu­sed more on the artis­tic aspect of the dis­play, and less on the ritu­al func­tions of the objects. He pre­dic­ted, cor­rect­ly, that the coll­ec­tion would gene­ra­te «a fecund field for obser­va­ti­on and for stu­dy­ing the his­to­ri­cal deve­lo­p­ment of Hebraic art of the past.»

The sub­se­quent exhi­bi­ti­on of Strauss’s coll­ec­tion of Jewish arte­facts at the Ang­lo-Jewish His­to­ri­cal Exhi­bi­ti­on in Lon­don, in 1887, along­side the Judai­ca owned by bour­geois Bri­tish Jews, cata­ly­zed pas­si­on for the coll­ec­tion of Judai­ca, the foun­da­ti­on of Jewish Muse­ums, and the stu­dy of Jewish ritu­al art.

Other late 19th-cen­tu­ry coll­ec­tors of Judai­ca include London’s Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um, which had acqui­red 25 items befo­re 1887, most­ly from dea­lers, inclu­ding an illus­tra­ted Esther scroll, Torah fini­als, a Hanuk­kah lamp, 13 mar­ria­ge rings, a Torah man­t­le and other textiles.

The Polish-Jewish mer­chant Les­ser Gieldzinski (1830–1910) was an obses­si­ve coll­ec­tor of pain­tings, cera­mics, clocks, musi­cal instru­ments, canes and much else, in addi­ti­on to Judai­ca. Izmir art dea­lers Ephra­im Ben­gui­at (c. 1852–1918) and his son Mor­de­cai also had the coll­ec­ting bug and acqui­red main­ly Ita­li­an and Otto­man Judai­ca. As with Schloss, the Ben­gui­ats’ coll­ec­tion of Jewish arte­facts began with fami­ly heirlooms.

In con­trast, Hein­rich Frau­ber­ger (1845–1920), a Catho­lic his­to­ri­an and cura­tor at the Muse­um of Deco­ra­ti­ve Arts in Düs­sel­dorf, coll­ec­ted Jewish ritu­al art in order to rese­arch the objects.

NL: How was Judai­ca dis­play­ed, pri­va­te­ly and publicly?

MK: For cen­tu­ries, Jewish cere­mo­ni­al objects were dis­play­ed in the room in which they were used; tho­se that embel­lished ritu­als at home remain­ed in the home, and tho­se employ­ed in the syn­ago­gue stay­ed the­re, per­haps in a cup­board or in a dis­play cabi­net in an adjoi­ning room when not in use.

The Roth­schilds and Isaac Strauss pre­sen­ted their art in their homes, whe­re they enter­tai­ned high socie­ty. Gieldzinski also show­ed his coll­ec­tion to visi­tors in his home in Gdansk, befo­re he moved it to the wed­ding hall of the Gre­at Syn­ago­gue in that city.

Jewish ritu­al art was first exhi­bi­ted to non-Jews in the public domain in 1874, when Strauss show­ed his Jewish ‹curio­si­ties› at the Palais Bour­bon, Paris, at a fund-rai­sing event for the pro­tec­tion of French citi­zens from Alsace and Lor­raine. In 1876, visi­tors to the monu­men­tal His­to­ri­cal Exhi­bi­ti­on of Ams­ter­dam, which cele­bra­ted the city’s 600th anni­ver­sa­ry, could admi­re 57 Jewish cere­mo­ni­al objects belon­ging to the Dutch Jewish com­mu­ni­ty. Strauss exhi­bi­ted his Jewish ritu­al art at the Palais du Tro­ca­dé­ro, at the Expo­si­ti­on Uni­ver­sel­le in Paris, in 1878. Nine years later the Ang­lo-Jewish His­to­ri­cal Exhi­bi­ti­on ope­ned to public accla­im in London’s Roy­al Albert Hall. Judai­ca was exhi­bi­ted in exhi­bi­ti­on cases or in a cordo­ned space, as was done sub­se­quent­ly in Jewish and non-Jewish museums.

Ano­ther tur­ning point in the dis­play of Judai­ca came when non-Jewish muse­ums began to dis­play Jewish arte­facts. I do not know if London’s Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um reve­a­led its 25 objects of Judai­ca to the public befo­re the 1887 exhi­bi­ti­on. After Strauss died, Baro­ness Char­lot­te de Roth­schild bought and gifted his coll­ec­tion to the City of Paris, whe­re in 1891, the Clu­ny Muse­um, an edu­ca­tio­nal insti­tu­ti­on, pre­sen­ted it to the public. Benguiat’s Judai­ca, com­pri­sing over 50 items used in syn­ago­gue and in the home was shown to the public in the [Smit­h­so­ni­an] United Sta­tes Natio­nal Muse­um in Washing­ton D.C., in 1901, and with­drawn when the muse­um refu­sed to acqui­re it. In 1902, Charles Her­cu­les Read, who cura­ted the Bri­tish Museum’s exhi­bi­ti­on of Baron Ferdinand’s coll­ec­tion, remark­ed that such a coll­ec­tion would «cul­ti­va­te and refi­ne the mas­ses.» This snob­bish aspi­ra­ti­on was a goal of the Exhi­bi­ti­on of Jewish Art and Anti­qui­ties, which took place in 1906, in the heart of the over­c­row­ded, poor neigh­bor­hood of Whitecha­pel in Lon­don, which housed the bulk of recent Eas­tern Euro­pean immigrants.

Few, howe­ver, would have seen the coll­ec­tion of Schloss had he not loan­ed his most beau­tiful pie­ces for dis­play at the Ang­lo-Jewish exhi­bi­ti­ons of 1887 and 1906. A young rela­ti­ve who recal­led visi­ting the reclu­si­ve patri­arch in his home, noted that it was crammed with art; Maud Hall-Nea­le, who pain­ted his por­trait, also pain­ted a Vic­to­ri­an dra­wing room sce­ne with a con­sidera­ble clut­ter of art objects around the fire­place, on the walls, side tables, and the man­tel­pie­ce. If this was not in the Schloss home, I belie­ve it por­trays accu­ra­te­ly how he arran­ged his coll­ec­tion, for his own inti­ma­te pleasure.

NL: Miche­le, Many thanks for your insight into the ear­ly days of Judai­ca collecting.

verfasst am 22.05.2024