The exhibition explores the history of Italy's Jewish community from a novel and highly colourful angle, the art of textiles

Some 140 exhibits, including tapestries, textiles, decorative fabrics, lace work, clothing, paintings and other items of daily or religious use, present the history of Italy's Jewish community for the first time through one of the lesser-known arts, the art of weaving, which has always played a crucial role in the decoration of houses, palazzi and places of worship in the Jewish world, revealing Judaism's care for its traditions but also its joyful, colourful side that is so rich in symbols. The exhibition also shines the spotlight on the Jewish people's intercultural and international character, thanks primarily to the outstanding variety of the textiles' motifs, where colour often predominates in a dazzling way.

The exhibition takes us from the ancient world right up to the fashions of the 20th century and to modern textile manufacturing, addressing such key themes as the role of writing as a decorative motif, the use of textiles in the synagogue, embroidery as a secret labour, and the role of women.

Playing a leading role as long ago as in the days of the Bible, fabrics have had the ability to express the Jewish people's soul also in more recent times through absolute masterpieces, often from the Near and Far East with which Italy's Jews came into contact through family or trading ties. See, for instance, the spectacular Ottoman curtain (or parochet) woven in the first quarter of the 16th century, on loan from the Museo della Padova Ebraica.

Italy's various Jewish communities, in osmosis with the society around them with which they interacted, ended up taking on board local artistic expressions and styles. Textiles from Livorno, Pisa, Genoa and Venice, for example, clearly reveal the influence of the Near East – a very different matter from what we see in the textiles of Rome, Florence or Turin, which tend to reflect a certain proximity with the developing tastes of Italy's ruling classes.

Visitors touring the exhibition will be able to admire several extremely rare pieces from foreign museums and collections, ideally leading them on a journey of exploration through the calendar of Jewish festivities. These pieces include embroidered fragments from the Museum of Fine Arts in Cleveland and two curtains from the Jewish Museum in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which, together with those from Florence, form a triptych of furnishing fabrics similar in both their technique and their symbology, on display here together for the very first time.

An extraordinary, unique piece is the late 15th century niello casket from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, which kept a tally of the laundry being used by family members, almost like a kind of early computer for the lady of the house's use.

Second-hand garments, especially women's clothing, often provided the precious fabrics used to make furnishings and vestments for the synagogue, and indeed in several cases one can even detect the lines of the gowns and work out their original use. In Fra' Galgario's Portrait of Count Giovanni Battista Vailetti, dated 1720 (an exceptional loan from the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice), the sitter wears a splendid morning coat in precious brocade, and in Sebastiano Ceccarini's Allegory of the Five Senses (1745), for example, the girl's gown is made of the same fabric as the Ambron mappah made in Rome in 1791–2.

The embroidery is simply breathtaking, some of it with "speaking coats-of-arms" (because Jews were prohibited from receiving noble titles) in sumptuous Baroque frames. Fully-fledged "needlework paintings" that glittered in the flickering light of candles and torches in a triumph of coloured silks and of gold and silver thread, these pieces were produced by the skilled hands of women who, though shut away inside the home, displayed astonishing creativity and vast knowledge.

The oldest fabrics on display in the exhibition, datable to the 15th century, include a curtain for the holy ark from the Museo Ebraico di Roma, another from the Synagogue in Pisa and a textile panel from the ‘Badia Fiorentina hanging’ which originally adorned the walls of the church on solemn feast days. All these fabrics are in tooled velvet interwoven with gold thread in the "griccia" motif, a pomegranate on a sinuous stem, which may well be the textile design that best symbolises the Renaissance in Tuscany.

A surprising discovery is the Aron Ha Qodesh, a holy ark from the oldest synagoge in Pisa. The painted decoration and gilding on the ark, which has now been identified as a 16th century original, have resurfaced from beneath the countless coats of white paint that had defaced it.

The exhibition's thematic sections bring us up to our own day via 19th century textile collecting, the greatest exponent of which was Giulio Franchetti who donated his collection to the Museo del Bargello, but also via the entrepreneurial spirit (in particular that of the Forti-Bemporad family in Prato) and the creativity of a number of celebrated fashion stylists.

The exhibition closes with an absolute masterpiece, a piece of lace some eight metres long designed by Lele Luzzati for the ocean liner Oceanic, in the shape of a collage of ancient and modern pieces reproducing The Splendour and Images of Italy's Commedia dell'Arte in an unusual medium combining traditional manual skill with unbelievable expressionist strength.

As the Director of Uffizi Galleries, Eike Schmidt, explained:  “it is a sweeping exhibition exploring a theme never yet addressed before now. Visitors will be stunned by the variety and richness of the items on display, which range from solemn liturgical vestments and fabrics to diplomatic gifts, garments, embroidery, portraits, ready-to-wear and much more. These fabrics tell the brimming, riveting story of the Jewish people in Italy”.

Alessandra Di Castro, President of the Foundation for the Museo Ebraico di Roma, remarked: The Jewish production of textiles, as indeed of silverware and of other forms of decorative art, is closely bound to the broader history of Italian art. It has been influenced down the ages by the changing tastes of Italy's artistic civilisation and has itself caused and influenced those changes. That is why this exhibition concerns everyone and shines the spotlight on a common heritage – an unbelievable heritage in terms of both its quality and its sheer quantity – which needs to be enhanced and protected, but above all, its story needs to be told so that people can become acquainted with it in all its rich variety”.

Curated by Dora Liscia Bemporad and Olga Melasecchi, catalogue published by Giunti.

Manifattura pisana Aròn ha-qòdesh Seconda metà del XVI secolo legno di noce, intagliato, tornito dipinto e dorato Comunità Ebraica, PisaSimchàh, moglie di Menahem Levi Meshullami (Venezia, attiva 1680-1681) Paròkhet 1680-1681 raso di seta rosa ricamato a punto pieno, punto stuoia, punto lanciato in oro filato e lamellare The Jewish Museum, New YorkStella, moglie di Isacco Perugia (Venezia †1675) Paròkhet detta “di Gerusalemme” Ante 1675 raso azzurro, sete policrome, canutiglia d’argento avvolta su seta gialla, perle barocche, oro filato  Museo Ebraico, VeneziaRicamatrice romana Me’ìl Di Segni Inizio del XVIII secolo fili di seta, oro filato avvolto attorno a un’anima di seta a punto steso e punto pittura Sala “I tesori delle Cinque Scole”, Museo Ebraico di Roma, RomaRicamatrice fiorentina (?) Me’ìl Inizio del XVIII secolo (ricamo); XIX secolo (confezione) ricamo ad applicazione su fondo di raso giallo, in velluto tagliato rosso, azzurro e verde, raso bianco, verde, rosa in due tonalità Comunità Ebraica, FirenzeRicamatrice romana Paròkhet Lattes 1736 oro filato e lamellare su fondo raso rosa-arancio e moiré celeste Sala “Feste dell’anno, Feste della vita”, Museo Ebraico di Roma, RomaRicamatrice romana Me’ìl Fiano 1764 ricamo riportato in raso bianco, ricamo con seta policroma e filati metallici in argento e argento dorato su raso azzurro Sala “Da Judaei a Giudei: Roma e i suoi ebrei”, Museo Ebraico di Roma, RomaRicamatrice veneta Paròkhet detta “dei Dieci Comandamenti” Ultimo decennio del XVIII secolo filato di seta policroma e argento Comunità Ebraica, FirenzeManifattura fiorentina Paròkhet Ultimo quarto del XV secolo velluto di seta rossa, fondo a trame d’oro lamellare e allucciolato Comunità Ebraica, PisaManifattura veneziana Me’ìl Fine del XV – inizio del XVI secolo velluto tagliato, operato, a due corpi, con trame broccate in oro allucciolato Comunità Ebraica, PadovaRicamatrice pisana Fascia per Sèfer Toràh Fine del XVII secolo ricamo in seta giallo, verde, azzurro e rosso su tela di lino Comunità Ebraica, PisaRicamatrice fiorentina Me’ìl Inizio del XVIII secolo filati di seta di colore azzurro, bianco, giallo, verde, tutti in tre tonalità, bianco, arancio e argento filato a punto ungaro Comunità Ebraica, FirenzeRicamatrice ligure Paròkhet Prima metà del XVIII secolo teletta d’oro ricamata a punto steso e a punto scaglia in sete policrome e filato metallico Comunità Ebraica, GenovaManifattura piemontese Me’ìl Inizio del XIX secolo velluto di seta tagliato, ricamo in filato dorato e sete policrome, lamina metallica e paillettes dorate e argentate Museo Civico d’Arte Antica – Palazzo Madama, TorinoRicamatrice romana (confezione; ricamo della parte centrale) Mappàh Ambron 1795-1796 (parte centrale); secondo quarto del XVIII secolo (parti laterali) raso ricamato con sete policrome e oro e argento filati, riquadri in taffetà ricamati con sete policrome Museo Ebraico di Roma, deposito, RomaSolomon Alexander Hart (Plymouth 1806 – Londra 1881) La festa di Simchàt Toràh nella sinagoga di Livorno 1850 olio su tela The Jewish Museum, New YorkManifattura ottomana del Cairo, Egitto Paròkhet Primo quarto del XVI secolo vello in lana su trama e ordito in lana Museo della Padova Ebraica, PadovaManifattura di Macao, Cina meridionale Paròkhet Seconda metà del XVII secolo ricamo in seta a punto lanciato su fondo in lino Comunità Ebraica, FirenzeGino Rossi (Venezia 1884 – Treviso 1947) Ritratto di Lucia Levi nei Levi 1906 olio su tela Comunità Ebraica, FirenzeRoberta di Camerino (Giuliana Coen, Venezia 1920-2010) Abito femminile 1976 jersey di poliestere stampato Museo della Moda e del Costume, Gallerie degli Uffizi, FirenzeEmanuele (Lele) Luzzati (Genova 1921-2007) Manifattura Mario Zennaro I fasti e le immagini della Commedia dell’Arte Italiana 1964 pizzo a tombolo Museo del Pizzo al Tombolo, Rapallo
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Information

Under the high patronage of the

President of the Italian Republic

Exhibition promoted by

Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali

Gallerie degli Uffizi

Fondazione per il Museo Ebraico di Roma

Fondazione per i Beni Culturali Ebraici in Italia

Firenze Musei

Exhibition title

The Colours of Judaism in Italy

Precious fabrics from the Temple of Jerusalem to contemporary ready-to-wear

Exhibition venue

Aula Magliabechiana - The Uffizi

Exhibition to run

27 June 2019 - 27 October 2019

Opening hours

Tuesday – Sunday from 8.15 am to 6.50 pm; closed Monday

Guided tour service

Information and reservations: Firenze Musei +39.055.290383

e-mail firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com

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Research
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