Keter Torah: Silver Torah Finials and Crowns

Early rabbinical texts disclaim the Hellenistic notion that a crown, or keter endowed its wearer with divine and immortal life. Instead, the keter became a symbol for 3 covenants with God: keter malkhut, crown of kingship, given to David for conquering the Ammonite capital of Rabbah; keter kenunah, the priesthood, given to the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron; and keter torah, the revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai, the crown of God.


Keter Torah, Assayag Synagogue by David R. Crowles (Tangier, Morocco 2002)

The keter torah and the Ten Commandments tablets may also be accompanied by two lions, symbolizing Moses and Aaron, as in this closeup of a crown from Odessa.

In Eastern Europe’s Galicia, this keter’s inscription refers to Deuteronomy 32:11, “As an eagle stirs up her nest, broods over her young…” The animals on the crown’s base represent those that would be sacrificed at the Temple. This silver folk-art crown was made during the 18th- to 19th Centuries and is part of the Michael Steinhardt Judaica Collection. I find it especially interesting because the double-headed eagle with a crown in the middle is also the Russian coat of arms.

These flat finials come from Afghanistan, 1978, and are one of three sets to go on top the Afghani Torah case. The custom of calling finials keter torah is also practiced in Eastern Persia, where most Afghan Jews came from. The ornaments reside in the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem.

In the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, a wooden box with two sets of finials on top, called a tik is preserved from a Sephardic synagogue during the Ottoman Empire, c. 1860.

On April 29, 2013, Sotheby’s auctioned this Venitian torah crown with two finials, c. 1730. From the Michael Steinhardt collection, it sold for $437,000. I am sure you can imagine how such a heavy crown with bells ringing on top of the torah case added drama to the service.

In 17th Century Poland and Ukraine, mysticism expressed in kabbalah founded different forms of Hasidic Judaism. The tree of life, or sephirot, comes from kabbalah. So does devekut, a mystical trance-state where one clings to God. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810) combined kabbalah and torah scholarship, making the mind the central route to the heart. At the top of the sephirot is the keter. It symbolizes the most hidden of all hidden things, incomprehensible to man.

This torah crown comes from Poland, c. 1840. It was sold by Skinner’s for $65,174.

And in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Hasidic Judaism is vibrantly alive.

מסרק

For more scholarly research, please examine


Crowning Glory: Silver Torah Ornaments of the Jewish Museum, New York

Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex
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Chinese Hair Pins and Desolate, Derelict Pain

I saw. I gasped. I wanted — so badly, silent screams came from secret parts of my body.

In 1644, the Aisin-Goro clan of the Tungusic Jurchen people from Manchuria (now Northeast China) conquered the Han Chinese in the South. The Ming Dynasty gave way to the Qing Dynasty. These are Qing Dynasty silver hair pins made during the reign of the Guangxu emperor Aisin-Gioro Zaitian (1875 – 1908). He was the Dynasty’s 11th and penultimate emperor.

Beautifully preserved enamel encases coral drops. Hand-crafted butterflies and flowers punctuate the chains. The pair is in original condition.

The auction on E-bay started at $0.99. I watched as the price climbed to $300, 18 hours before auction end: 26 bids. I knew it was going to go, and I couldn’t enter that shock-and-awe $1000 snipe bid to win.

But I was wrong. Someone DID put in that nuclear snipe bid, and they lost! The hair pins sold for $1025 on March 25, 2013, to the 37th bidder. Congratulations.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine the Creative Museum’s Asian comb exhibition, Gina Hellweger’s first and second Chinese hair ornament collections,

this 1860 photograph of women in Guangzhou wearing hair ornaments, contributed by Alain Truong Trong Nghia

and these books:


Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

The Comb: Its History and Development

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment
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The Vienna Secession, Wiener Werkstätte, and H.K. Haege

Unsatisfied with the conservative restraints of the Vienna Künstlerhaus, Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil, and others formed the Vienna Secession in 1897. They wanted to break free of society’s intoxication with imitating historical styles, as in the Victorian Era’s Egyptian Revival. Their headquarter’s innovative architectural design featured three gorgons by Othmar Schimkowitz above the door.

The Secession also brought French Impressionism to the Viennese public, and Josef Hoffman dedicated an event to Beethoven. Klimt contributed the Beethoven Frieze.

However, in addition to Art Nouveau / Jugendstil, there was also the British Arts and Crafts Movement. In Vienna, industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer funded its equivalent, the Wiener Werkstätte with Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser.

Revolting against the idea of mass-produced junk vomited out by the Industrial Revolution, they hand-crafted jewelry that blurred the line between sculpture and ornament. Hair combs and hats were among the offerings.

The designs above were made by Dagobert Peche. He loved to portray natural forms in a complex and whimsical way. Combining coral, ivory and gold, he punctuated natural forms with geometric accents.

Koloman Moser’s student Mela Koehler included whimsical hats in her fashion illustration, having joined the Wiener Werkstätte in 1909.

Many jewelers created pieces in the Wiener Werkstätte style. Among them was German jeweler H. K. Haege in 1920. He created this comb of at least 114 handmade silver parts to express the delicacy of a floral basket. The high grade silver highlighted his extraordinary repoussé workmanship.

It is selling at The Tadema Gallery in the £5000-10,000 range.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine


Wiener Werkstatte: 1903-1932
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The Collection Göring

Hermann Göring’s art collection numbered 4200 items, most of which he kept at Carinhall, his country estate near Berlin. They included paintings, sculptures, furniture, and this magnificent platinum tiara, with 32 carats of diamonds and 8 emerald cabochons. Two side leaves with buds lead to the center spray.

Another diamond tiara with stars outlined by hollow galleries can be seen as Göring escorts his wife Emmy to a ball.

It was a happy marriage. Emmy and daughter Edda gave Hermann many gifts with loving inscriptions. Storage-inventory-number 466/96 at the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich is a gold and diamond cigarette case, engraved with the words, “Filled with happiness and pride, we congratulate you on your appointment as ‘Field Marshall.’ With our deepest love, Emmy and Edda.”

Edda can also be seen here at Carinhall, held by her mother just after her Christening. A beautiful painting hangs in the background.

It is hard to determine where these items came from. The German government has allocated €2 million a year to fund the “Working Group for the Research and Study of Provenance.” Their job is to sift through 20,000 items, which are currently being kept in museum storage vaults. There are 4 employees, who have launched 84 projects. Germany has 6300 museums.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine


Hermann Goring and the Nazi Art Collection: The Looting of Europe’s Art Treasures and Their Dispersal After World War II
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Samburu Jewelry, Rebecca Lolosoli, and Half the Sky

In the Samburu district of Kenya, near Archers Post, lies a village of women’s dignity – Umoja. It is a refuge for victims of domestic violence.

Normally pastoral cattle herders, Samburu matriarch Rebecca Lolosoli has started a business to make the complex beaded necklaces and headdresses for which the tribe is known. The Samburu knit with small, brightly colored beads, weaving complex patterns and ideas in layers. Round silver coin-like beads are attached to the headdresses, as are larger center ornaments. Ms. Lolosoli’s jewelry showcases the highest level of skill.

With jewelry, she and her village are fighting for the right to be untouched by violence. Umoja is part of Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky Movement. A woman has a right to an education; own a business; make decisions; and not be raped, shot, or promised into marriage as a child. Ms. Lolosoli also fights female circumcision. Instead of growing older with eyes that have seen untold horrors, in Umoja, a young woman can glow with pride.

कंघी

For more on Umoja and Half the Sky, please examine Umoja Women and


Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
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Jen Cruse: Exhibition for the Creative Museum

In an “Around the World in 80 Comb” exhibition, author Jen Cruse shares her collection with the Creative Museum. Her presentation enunciates the stunning diversity of comb design across the world and across time.

My favorite is this Chinese ivory comb, which depicts Shou Xing, the Chinese God of Longevity. He is part of the Taoist concept of Fu Lu Shou. Taoism dates back to the the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), when the Han Chinese ended Genghis Khan’s Mongolian rule.

With a high bald head, Shou Xing smiles gently as he carries a branch with peaches of immortality from the garden of Xi Wang Mu. His small helper looks on. The comb is curved because it is made from the top of an elephant tusk.

The peaches are visible on the back of the comb.

Other combs in the collection include this black Bonaz with gold plum flowers,

this celluloid Art Deco American comb with gold paint, whose blue is the same color as a Tiffany & Co. shopping bag,

and a seed-pearl aigrette.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine the publications of the Creative Museum and Jen’s book


The Comb: Its History and Development
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Leopards and Gazelles in a Qajar Comb

The Qajars were a Persian royal family of Hazar Turkic origin (named after the Hazar Sea), whose dynasty began with Agha Muḥammad Khān Qājār in 1794 and ended with Sultan Ahmad Shah Qajar in 1925. Agha Muhammad brought peace, which allowed unique style of Persian painting and portraiture to develop and flourish.

A main theme of Qajar art was the garden scene, which was inherited from the Safavid Dynasty.


Double Finispiece From The Diwan Of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, 1582 CE

Persian leopards were the hunting trophies of kings. Rulers ascended to the peacock throne. There were also eagles, serins, gazelles, rabbits, and rams. Gardens had wider connections to spirituality and mysticism. Sadly, today, the Persian leopard has been hunted almost to extinction.


Double Finispiece From The Diwan Of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, 1582 CE

Recently, a group of wooden, painted Qajar H combs, c. 1920, sold on E-Bay. I was particularly interested in this one because of the rural garden scene. On one side, a Persian leopard bites a male gazelle, while the female looks on.

On the other side, an eagle eats a serin with a fish in its mouth. Predators and prey depicting the circle of life, portrayed in a circle. A ram looks on, while rabbits and ducks dot the edges.

Sale price: $978.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine


Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran, 16Th-19th Centuries

Royal Persian Paintings : The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925

Wall Paintings And Other Figurative Mural Art in Qajar Iran
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Glass Hair Combs of Edo Era Japan

In the Genroki period (1688-1704) of the Edo Era (1688-1867), men would visit bath houses. Bath women, or yuna, would wash, comb, set men’s hair, and offer sexual favors. Because it took two hands to style a man’s top knot, yuna put their utilitarian combs casually in their hair. The trend caught the attention of married and unmarried women from all social classes, and combs changed from a tool to an ornament.

Makers used ivory, buffalo horn, lacquered wood, coral, and tortoiseshell, which was by far the most expensive material. Seamen painted combs, too. They chose glass because grime could be wiped off, and glass preserved the pigments against salt air, which would ruin other materials.

This comb is in the Kobe City Museum in Japan: a tall ship is painted on glass and encased in tortoiseshell.

The museum gives a date of c. 1800.

This date reflects the foreign policy of Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651). The Sakoku Edict of 1635 remained in place until 1854. Sakoku means locked country. No foreigner could enter. No Japanese citizen could leave. It was a reaction to Catholic missionaries having converted 500,000 Japanese people to Christianity by 1600, including some feudal lords. The Shogunate did not trust European intentions and threw them out — with one exception: The Dutch.

An artificial island was made in the Bay of Nagasaki called Dejima. Only Dutch ships were allowed. The Dutch could not cross into Nagasaki, and only Japanese who performed necessary tasks, such as carpenters, cooks, and women of pleasure were allowed in.

In 1790, only one Dutch ship was allowed to come. I am going to make a guess. This comb was painted by a Japanese ship-carpenter in 1790, documenting the arrival of the only Dutch merchant ship to arrive that year. He would have made it for one of the women of pleasure, who entertained the Dutch in Dejima.

कंघी

References:
1, 2, 3, 4

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Sumba Combs

The spectacular high combs worn by young women, brides and adolescent girls in East Sumba, Indonesia, form part of their rich traditional costume for festivals, ceremonies and weddings. These treasured objects, belonging to the Island’s aristocratic families, have passed down the generations since at least the early 19th century.

The combs are known as hai kara jangga and are placed upstanding over the brow or high on the head, crown-like and held in place by ribbons or a band. They are hand carved from mottled tortoiseshell (from both thick and thin plates) or occasionally from buffalo horn. Once carved and polished, they are deeply curved in the horizontal plane almost to a semi-circle – there is no curvature in the vertical plane. The combs all follow a basic format: an upper pierced heading separated from the teeth by a band of solid tortoiseshell displaying engraved linear geometric decoration.

The carved decorative headings, which vary from comb to comb, are designed symmetrically on either side of the central motif, each with various images in silhouette of stylised animals, birds, fish, trees and sometimes the human figure. They have recognisable symbolic meaning within the mythology of the Island’s culture – for instance, the horse represents loyalty, the chicken wealth. The skull trees (andung trees), featured as the central motif on many examples, were once used to display captured heads from hostile encounters and inter-village warfare. The motifs depicted on the combs echo those of the Ikat woven textiles of the region or on some of their standing stone monuments.

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine


The Comb: Its History and Development
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The Creative Museum: From Art Nouveau to Art Deco

Part two of The Creative Museum’s presentation, “From Art Nouveau to Art Deco,” will be appearing on October 22. I am looking forward to it because their scholarship is immaculate.

Here are a few of my favorite Art Deco combs from their collection. They are all by Auguste Bonaz. I think it is interesting to see how his designs developed from 1910 – 1925, especially the two combs in the same shape. In 1910, he did red and black. In 1920, the same shaped comb displays a completely different idea.

1910

1910

1920

1920

1925

For more history and insight, you’ll have to wait for The Creative Museum’s presentation. :-)

कंघी

For more scholarly research, please examine the other exhibitions at The Creative Museum.

The Riches of the French Empire

Facing Me, Facing You

EN TÊTE À TÊTE, dedicated to headdresses, the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Angoulême

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