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Spice box (bessamim) and candelabrum

Eastern France or Germany, late 18th or early 19th century

Silver and silver-plated metal, 31.5 x 8.8 cm

Anonymous gift

Boite-a-aromates-avec -chandelier.jpg

Boite à aromates (bessamim) avec chandelier, fin du XVIIIe ou début du XIXe siècle

On Saturday evening, the havdalah or “separation” ceremony marks the end of shabbat and ushers in the coming week. A braided candle with several wicks is lit to signify the return to the everyday world then extinguished with wine from a dish. During the ceremony, the family inhales the aroma of the spices (bessamim) in preparation for the new week. This type of object comprising a box and a sliding candelabrum that is lowered as the candle burns down is a very specific Ashkenazi typology that developed from the late 17th century throughout southern Germany, from Frankfurt to Nuremberg, then in Switzerland and Alsace-Lorraine.

Like many Jewish objects made by Christian craftsmen, this spice box and candelabrum is a combination of heterogeneous elements: a small plinth with imperfectly embossed decoration (the only part in pure silver), a rectangular spice box with a small drawer with four compartments and a frieze of garlands at the top, and four small figurines “Judaized” by the addition of an attribute representing a utensil used during havdalah: a candle, a box with four compartments, a dish and a wine pitcher. The four rods are for adjusting the height of the candle, held by two hands joining in a sign of blessing designating a presumed descendant of Aaron and probably added at the client’s request. The bells attached to the lower corners of the box evoke those on the costume of the high priest and the sacrifices in the Temple that included offerings of perfume..

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