NCMA Recommends: Ceremonial Beaker for the Darmstadt Burial Society
Martin Breuer, Ceremonial Beaker for the Darmstadt Burial Society, 1711–15, silver, partly gilded, engraved, H. 7 5/8 in., Gift of Steven and Lisa Feierstein in memory and honor of their families, Ugo Goetzl in memory of Sylvia Goetzl, Marion Meyer-Robboy and Stanley Robboy, and other Friends of the Judaic Art Gallery
Among the most exciting recent NCMA acquisitions is a magnificent gilt silver beaker for a German Hevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society responsible for funeral preparations). It was crafted at the beginning of the 18th century by silversmith Martin Breuer in Augsburg, the center of German baroque and rococo goldsmith and silversmith artistry. Engraved with a complex rhyming Hebrew dedication, it was made for the Darmstadt burial society “established in 1710 and reestablished in 1733.”
This cup is ornamented with five rows of roundels engraved with the names of the members of the Holy Society (the literal meaning of Hevra Kadisha) along with the years the men joined the organization. Although associated with the mourning and sadness of funerary traditions, this beaker is actually an object of celebration and life. It was used for a banquet usually held on the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Adar—traditionally the birth and death date of Moses—an annual rejoicing by the members of the burial society that was a marked contrast to their usual activities. They celebrated with festive drinking from the same type of grand vessels used by guilds and other fraternal organizations.
Now, as we enter autumn, we mark the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, celebrated this year on September 19 and 20, the first days of the month of Tishrei (Libra). This zodiac symbol of scales is emblematic of the divine judgment for the new year and of the penitential High Holy Days season. The traditional Jewish liturgy declares, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who shall live and who shall die.”
Judaic Gallery Fosters Cultural Understanding
The Museum’s Judaic art collection celebrates the spiritual life and ceremonies of the Jewish people through ritual objects of artistic excellence. The NCMA is one of only two general art museums in the country with a permanent gallery devoted to Jewish ceremonial art. The Judaic Art Gallery opened in 1983 under the guidance of Dr. Abram Kanof (1903–99), physician, medical professor, and scholar of Jewish art and symbolism. It was Dr. Kanof’s vision—wholeheartedly embraced by the Museum—that the Judaic Art Gallery should not only offer a collection of beautifully designed and crafted objects; it should also serve as a forum for religious and cultural understanding. Learn more about the collection and gallery on the Museum website, and watch videos about the Judaic Art Gallery in this YouTube playlist.
Clay in the Hands of the Potter
In times of great hardship, people of faith have often written, made music, or created art reflecting the need to relinquish control to a higher power. This traditional piyyut, or liturgical poem for Yom Kippur, uses the visual language of an artist to illuminate the practice of acceptance as well as personal responsibility.
Honoring Justice Ginsburg
The Ceremonial Beaker documents the responsibility to ritually prepare and bury the dead, a cherished, revered practice in Jewish communities worldwide. Known as the truest act of kindness, it is done privately and anonymously, and there is no way for repayment or expressions of gratitude. To learn more about these traditions and contemporary practice, see the website Kavod v’Nichum—Honor and Comfort.
This week, the nation mourns the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was the subject of an exhibition by the National Museum of American Jewish History, Notorious RBG (October 2019–January 2020). In this online spotlight, you can read more about the exhibition and about the life of RBG. You can also download stickers and wallpaper backgrounds and watch videos with Justice Ginsburg herself.—Felicia Ingram, Manager of Interpretation, Accessibility, and Diversity
Soul Journeys on Film
The Ceremonial Beaker brings to mind two films that touch on honoring, remembering, and celebrating someone’s life after death. These films also take their protagonists on a journey to learn about their loved ones, the secrets they kept, and their family history.—Maria Lopez, Manager of Film and Lecture Programs
• Everything Is Illuminated (2005). Director: Liev Schreiber. Adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, this film follows a young Jewish-American man obsessed with his family history who journeys to Ukraine to learn about his grandfather. Rent on Amazon, iTunes, or YouTube.
• Nora’s Will / Cinco días sin Nora (2008). Director: Mariana Chenillo. When his ex-wife Nora dies, José is left to handle the funeral, which includes all the Jewish customs and rituals that make planning her burial more than José can manage. Winner of seven Mexican Academy Awards including Best Picture of the Year. Rent on Vimeo.
A Chant for Yom Kippur
Beit Avi Chai, a center for the creation and expression of Jewish education and culture, has put together a wonderful virtual program for the High Holy Days. Listen to this piyyut, a chanted liturgical poem for Yom Kippur, and explore the rest of the program here.
Virtual “What’s in the Box?”
Have fun while exploring art together! “What’s in the Box?” is the Museum’s signature program for children ages 2 to 5 and their caregivers. For this live virtual session on Wednesday, October 7, we’ll explore the shapes, lines, and forms that make up the Ceremonial Beaker. Plus, we’ll create foil rubbings using household materials.
A Space for Communal Reflection
Art can be a powerful medium to reflect, renew, and inspire. The practice of slow art does this in a way that brings people together. Join us for Mindful Museum: Virtual Slow Art Appreciation on Wednesday, October 21 . This free program guides you through centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of Monet’s The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset. For ages 16 and up.