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Joachim Michael Salecker, Cup with cover with Hebrew inscriptions

Joachim Michael Salecker, Cup with cover with Hebrew inscriptions, 1723, silver gilt, 16.5 cm in diameter, 37.8 cm high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Speakers: Dr. Ariel Fein and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(soft piano music) - [First Presenter] We're in the galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at a stunning silver covered cup. So it's got two pieces, the vessel that we would drink from, and this elaborate cover. And if we look closely, we see that there are figures around the center. Around the lid of this cup, we see engraved roundels with the signs of the zodiac, the 12 astrological signs that correspond to the constellations. Surmounting the lid are cast brackets and scrolled motifs that terminate in a finial. And then on the body of the cup, we see three bands, finely decorated with incised motifs, including rosettes. And then the 12 sons of Jacob are portrayed in relief within niches, and below them, Hebrew names. - [Second Presenter] Each of the sons of Jacob is represented carrying an attribute associated with him. Judah carries a staff and is shown wearing a crown and dressed as a king. In his hands, he holds a shield with the image of a lion, traditionally associated with the tribe of Judah. The unusual ordering of the Hebrew names of the 12 sons of Jacob lists Issachar, Judah, and Levi in a row. And that's rather strange. What we've discovered is that this is actually the Hebrew name of the patron, a gentleman named Issachar ben Juda Halevi, or in German, Behrend Lehmann. - [First Presenter] And Behrend Lehmann was a really interesting man, who rose to heights of power working for the King Frederick the First of Prussia. Jews had served in royal courts in the Islamic world, and in the Christian world, and came to be known as Court Jews. - [Second Presenter] Court Jews rose to such positions of prominence, that they were able to exert influence as well as benefit themselves, and support their own communities. Just like other members of the courts, Court Jews were often patrons of art, commissioning and appreciating the kinds of works valued at the court. In the 17th and 18th centuries, many European courts welcomed in religious minorities, and Jews were among these newcomers. They were able to offer economic support because of their extensive mercantile networks. - [First Presenter] It can be advantageous to a ruler to hire someone who's a little bit on the outside of the normal political circles. - [Second Presenter] And Behrend Lehman was one such man. He came bringing his extensive connections, and as a result he rose to such a prominent position of power that he had economic and political influence but also artistic influence. He played a substantial role in helping Frederick the First of Prussia amass his own collection of art. - [First Presenter] And he clearly had a collection of his own, and this object formed part of that. - [Second Presenter] During this period, we see rulers creating Wunderkammern. - [First Presenter] Cabinets of wonder. - [Second Presenter] Where they would collect precious objects and natural specimens. One of the works that Behrend Lehman gave to the King of Prussia was an exquisite work of goldsmith's art. It's called the Weltallschale, meaning a representation of the world. Among its many decorations are images of the Zodiac and 12 legendary kings. - [First Presenter] So both of those motifs appear here on this lidded cup. - [Second Presenter] Since we see these close connections in the motifs of Lehman's lidded cup and the Weltallschale, the lid cup would have highlighted Lehman's proximity to the king, and his prestige. - [First Presenter] And so Lehman had a prominent place within the court, but he also had a prominent place within the Jewish community, and helped to fund important Jewish institutions. - [Second Presenter] He helped to build a new synagogue in his city. He helped to create a school of higher Jewish learning, but he also advocated on behalf of the Jewish community with the king. - [First Presenter] It was helpful to the community to have someone who was so highly placed politically. - [Second Presenter] We don't know for sure whether Lehman commissioned this cup himself or if it was a gift to him, but it would make sense for this to have been a gift from the Jewish community to him, in gratitude for all of his work on their behalf. - [First Presenter] So as we walk by this object, which is one of many fabulously beautiful silver objects in a case in the museum,, we're not aware of the fabulous story that this tells of a Jewish man at a moment in time in Europe where Jewish life was still very restricted but where some Jews were able to have the kind of power and influence that Behrend Lehman had. (soft piano music) (music fades)