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George Wilhelm Marggraff
Hanukkah lamp


George Wilhelm Marggraff (1740-1804), detail of the Hanukkah lamp, Berlin ca. 1776
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah is celebrated at home. For eight nights the festival lights are lit and placed in a window or doorway as a reminder of the miracle of light associated with the Hanukkah holiday.

This elaborate, rococo Hanukkah lamp was crafted by a the master silversmith George Wilhelm Marggraff and probably commissioned for a wealthy patron. Its form raises many questions. A classical female figure stands adjacent to the central shaft, wearing a toga. She gestures upwards with one arm and holds a rose branch in the otherone arm. How should this breast-baring woman be interpreted and what does she have to do with Hanukkah?

The Hanukkah festival recalls Jewish historical events. In the 2nd century B.C.E., the Jewish population in Palestine lived under repressive Hellenistic-Syrian rule and Jews were encouraged to Hellenize and to serve idolatrous gods. Even the holy Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was taken over and dedicated to the Greek god Zeus. The Hanukkah story tells of a Jewish uprising and the successful overthrow of Greek rule. The Temple was rededicated and the Temple candelabrum lit. Our rose-bearing figure is probably a representation of Chloris, the Greek goddess of flowers, and evokes the Hellenistic values against which the Jews rebelled. However, this irony is unlikely to be intentional and reflects rather the design whimsy of a non-Jewish silversmith with a penchant for classicism.

On the base of the lamp, miniature figures in modest European dress act out scenes more closely-related to Jewish aspects of the Hanukkah story, as if to underscore its intended function as a ceremonial Hanukkah lamp. An afterthought, perhaps.

Object Details:
George Wilhelm Marggraff
Hanukkah lamp
Berlin, ca. 1776
Silver
66 x 49 x 21,5 cm

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