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Lamp case and lid

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (possibly, made)
    Germany (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1412-23 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Leather, moulded, embossed and punched

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting

  • Museum number:

    W.111&A-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, Room 50c, case 1 []

This leather case may have been made to protect a gold kiddush cup given (according to the Hebrew inscription on the lid) by Isaac son of Jacob to a congregation named for his father Jacob Halevi.

The kiddush cup (kiddush goblet, kiddush beaker) is a goblet used for drinking wine in Jewish religious ceremonies on special occasions such as wedding or in the benediction before the evening meal preceding each Sabbath or a holy festival. Ordinarily there is no special form for these cups and any type of wine cup may be used.

Physical description

COVERED CASE
Boiled and sewn leather, formerly light-brown, now sable. Circular upright form. Shut-over flat-topped cap and embushment.

Cap in two layers, the top decorated in relief with a rosette and concentric design of quatrefoils and bead border. Round the sides of the cap, an inscription in Hebrew characters. Two eyes for a thong long wanting corresponding with eyes of the container. No lining.

On the container of two layers of stitched leather, below a relief rim of round arched arcading, a pair of large quatrefoil flowers surrounded by 8 small quatrefoil devices and a trefoil border using the same semi-circular punch used elsewhere on the case. Inside, one vertical seam. No lining. Under the base, incised concentric circles.

Thong replaced by a recent black-and-white cord. This cord is a modern replacement, white and black being Ashkenazi colours, found also on men's prayer shawls.

With two pasted, printed labels: 1219 [in black], and 18 [in red]

Place of Origin

Germany (possibly, made)
Germany (possibly, made)

Date

1412-23 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Leather, moulded, embossed and punched

Dimensions

Height: 14.5 cm, Width: 11.4 cm, Depth: 10 cm, Weight: 0.22 kg

Object history note

Notes on the inscription by Vivian Mann. The inscription reads on one side the name Isaac son of Jacob haLevi followed by two letters that are an abbreviation for "May God
protect him." On the second side is an abbreviation consisting of two of the Hebrew letter kuf (i.e. kuf kuf) followed by the abbreviation for "the esteemed rabbi," then Jacob haLevi. It is uncertain which letters of the second half of the inscriptions were marked to indicate a date. They all seem to be in the name Jacob and if only the last three letters are so marked, then the date would be 1412/3; if all four letters are marked, the date is 1422/3. In any case, a dating in the first quarter of the 15th century seems secure and appropriate stylistically and in relation to another Jewish futteral and to Jewish work on leather in the late Middle Ages. The most likely interpretation of the inscription seems
to be: Isaac son of Jacob is the donor of the object (for which the case was made) to a congregation (kuf kuf would stand for kehillah kedoshah or holy congregation) named for his father Jacob Halevi. As gold kiddush cups were given to a number of congregations in the Rhineland in the 15th and 16th centuries, it seems plausible that this case was made to enclose such a cup.

The kiddush cup (kiddush goblet, kiddush beaker) is a goblet used for drinking wine in Jewish religious ceremonies on special occasions such as wedding or in the benediction before the evening meal preceding each Sabbath or a holy festival. Ordinarily there is no special form for these cups and any type of wine cup may be used.

This interpretation supercedes the earlier suggestion that this protective case appears to have held a ceremonial lamp (probably of glass) now missing. The inscription around the lid in Hebrew characters, having been translated as 'In memory of Jacob the Levite' and 'Isaac son of Jacob the Levite' which suggests that the lamp was a Yahrzeit lamp, used by the son Isaac to commemorative his father Jacob the Levite. This case was apparently made to order to fit an existing lamp, which if made of glass would have been valuable as well as fragile. However lights specifically used as a memorial light are not known pre-late 19th century.

George Salting
Only one reference to leather was found among Salting’s (incomplete) papers at the Guildhall Library. It is possible that he bought most of his leather from auction sales (the papers for which have not all been checked, 12/2006). It is possible that his interest in leather began, like his interest in renaissance furniture begins during 1884 (after the Spitzer sale, 1883 at which he was said to have spent £35,000, and the Fountaine sale, 1884).

Historical context note

Notes on the manufacture of medieval leather containers:

Waterer (and following him, Cherry) summarise the medieval techniques for making leather containers for dry-goods:

Stitching is the most common technique, with holes made in leather by awls. Thread is made from flax or hemp yarn rolled with beeswax. The other principal assembly technique is sticking to a wooden structure. The traditional adhesive for box covering is hot animal glue, which was often created as a by-product of the fleshings taken by the tanner from the skins or hides.

Leather objects can also be created by moulding. The traditional medieval term was cuir bouilli, though Waterer suggests that boiling could not have been used. The technique is quite simple, and consists of soaking the (vegetable-tanned) leather in cold water until it is thoroughly saturated. The leather is then very plastic and can be modelled over formers in moulds of plaster, wood or metal. If the surface is to be ornamented by tooling, stamping or punching, this must be done while the leather is damp.The leather is then dried gradually (to avoid brittleness), supported by its mould or filling which can be removed later.

The most common processes of decorating smooth-surfaced leather are:

Incising with blunt or sharp tools
Punching to give a texture to the background of incised designs, using a variety of small iron or bronze punches (also used in book binding).
Modelling, to leave important features in low relief
Embossing, performed with a ball tool from the flesh side of leather that has been previously dampened.
Carving, which is done from the grain side with a special knife that can be inserted more orless horizontally and partially raises up a thin layer until the form appears to lie on the surface

Finally the object is decorated with coloured dyes, usually with some paint (tempera). Red seems a common colour (little work on medieval dyes). Some leather was gilded using glaire (white of an egg) or gold size to attach gold leaf which adhered under the heat and pressure of book-binding tools.

However, Davies argues that the multiple techniques of cuir bouilli have never actually been very clearly established. Cuir bouilli differs from other supported leathers in that after treatment it is rigid (without a support) and water resistant, indicating that the structure of the leather has been altered through a chemical reaction. Otherwise leather would remain flexible unless coated with a stiffening medium or mounted on a backing material. She suggests that all true cuir bouilli was made by taking vegetable-tanned leather and saturating it with water, then heating it to a temperature just before it starts to shrink, removing it from the hot water and moulding it immediately, and if necessary stitching it while wet. In this way the molecular bonding of the leather is weakened but not fully released allowing limited realignment of its molecular structure to take place in a more controlled manner. Alternatively, if the heat source application is limited to only the surface of the wet leather then it is possible that the shrinkage solely occurs in the outer layer of the leather, producing a surface hardening effect and reinforcing the structure. She speculates that by impregnating oils, resins and waxes, it may be possible to mould the structure of the leather when hot, and to produce more detailed surface decoration because otherwise this decoration would be distorted by shrinkage after tooling.

Bibliography
English medieval Industries (ed John Blair and Nigel Ramsay, London) 'Leather' chapter 12 by John Cherry, pp. 295-318
Conservation of Leather and related materials (ed. Marion Kite and Roy Thomson, 2006), 'Cuir Bouilli' chapter 10 by Laura Davies, pp. 94-102
Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts, ed. Harold Osborne (Oxford, rev.ed. 1985) 'Leathercraft' entry by John W. Waterer

Descriptive line

Lamp case and lid, boiled and sewn leather.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kanof, Abram, Jewish Ceremonial Art and Religious Observance (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1970),

Production Note

Rhineland

Materials

Leather

Categories

Ceremonial objects; Death; Containers; Judaism; Woodwork; Medieval and renaissance; Leather

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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