The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy, The Cloisters

Detail: The Met Cloisters Garden, New York
Detail: The Met Cloisters Garden, New York
Detail: The Met Cloisters Garden, New York

Detail: The Met Cloisters Garden, New York

The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy, is a new exhibition organized by Barbara Drake Boehm, the Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, which will be on show July 22 – January 12, 2020 at the very evocative The Met Cloisters Museum, New York.

For over 500 years, a small cache of jewellery and coins lay hidden within the walls of a house in the picturesque medieval town of Colmar, France until it was re-discovered in 1863, and given the name The Colmar Treasure.

Colmar, the old town, Alsace, France

Colmar, the old town, Alsace, France

The pieces will be displayed alongside related works from The Cloisters Collection, The Jewish Theological Seminary, the Bibliothèque Municipale, Colmar, and a number of distinguished private collections within the United States.

It is now permanently housed in the collection of my favourite small museum in the world, the Musée de Moyen Age (Musee Cluny).

Musee du Moyen Age (Musee du Cluny), Paris

Musee du Moyen Age (Musee du Cluny), Paris

Brilliantly situated in the old Palace of the Archbishops of Cluny at Paris and above Roman ruins below, the museum collection contains the treasure trove comprising of rings of sapphire, ruby, garnet, and turquoise; jewelled and fanciful brooches; a delicate enamelled belt; glorious gilded buttons; and more than 300 coins.

Jewish ceremonial wedding ring, from the Colmar Treasure, ca. 1300­–before 1348. Gold, opaque and translucent enamel, 1 3/8 x 7/8 in. (3.5 x 2.3 cm). Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

Jewish ceremonial wedding ring, from the Colmar Treasure, ca. 1300­–before 1348. Gold, opaque and translucent enamel, 1 3/8 x 7/8 in. (3.5 x 2.3 cm). Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.

It highlights the legacy and loss the Jewish minority community faced during the historically tumultuous 14th century in Europe, when they were blamed for an outbreak of the Black Death 1348 – 1351. These were the precious possessions of a single family. Despite being small in scale and relatively few in number, the objects form a treasure ensemble and overturn our conventional notions of medieval Europe as only a monolithic Christian society. They act as a poignant tribute to Jewish artistic heritage, while shining a spotlight on the role they played in the evolution of art and society in medieval Europe.

The inscription mazel tov on one ring, links the hoard that was discovered to Colmar’s once-thriving Jewish community, who were all brutally scapegoated and put to death when Plague struck their region.

Gold Jewish wedding ring with Hebrew letters. Chased and enamelled gold and filigree, early 14th century, found at Colmar (Alsace, France) in 1863 MaterialGold, silver, bronze, iron, courtesy Musée de Cluny, Paris

Gold Jewish wedding ring with Hebrew letters. Chased and enamelled gold and filigree, early 14th century, found at Colmar (Alsace, France) in 1863
Material Gold, silver, bronze, iron, courtesy Musée de Cluny, Paris

All the major Western religions find their roots in Judaism; the religion of the Jewish people based on monotheism, the belief in one God.

Jewish history is central to Jewish identity, and despite centuries of persecution, massacres and being dispersed amongst all the nations on earth since the first century AD, while adopting some local customs and folk traditions, the Jewish peoples have always held onto the basic tenets of both their religion and culture.

Rembrandt van Rijn, detail, Isaac and Rebecca (known as The Jewish Bride) (c. 1669), © courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rembrandt van Rijn, detail, Isaac and Rebecca (known as The Jewish Bride) (c. 1669), © courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

As an aspect of the cultural legacy of the Crusades, Europe during this period also began rediscovering the learning of Ancient Greece through Arab libraries.

Interestingly, it was Peter the Venerable of Cluny, who would have the Qu’ran translated into Latin ensuring certain Islamic ideas became absorbed into the Western esoteric tradition. This was a period when Europeans also became aware of various luxury goods.

Education programs have been organized to complement the exhibition, which is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund, with additional support provided by the David Berg Foundation.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2019

cloistersThe Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy

Opens July 2

The Met Cloisters Museum, New York

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