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Casale Monferrato, Italy, 1671

 

Casale Monferrato, Italy, 1671

 
 

 

 

During the second half of the 17th century  in many regards the golden age of ketubah decoration in northern Italy, particularly in Venice and its surroundings  the meanings associated with the image of Jerusalem on ketubot became established and set.

 

One of the most complicated and sophisticated types of decoration that developed in Venice is displayed here in a ketubah commemorating a wedding held in Casale Monferrato (a suburb of Piedmont in north-west Italy).

 

In this ketubah, in which the vision of Jerusalem is intergrated in a fascinatiny way, a complete and encompassing picture of the Jewish world is depicted. The Holy City appears in the large medallion in the center of the top part of the ketubah, in likeness to the way it is displayed in the ketubah from Venice, 1674.

 

However, Jerusalem has a deeper meaning in the decorative plan of this ketubah. Surrounding the picture of the city are three miniatures that illustrate Psalm 128 a Psalm that describes the ideal family life in Messianic Jerusalem. This Psalm is read in marriage ceremonies of Italian Jews to this day. 

 

Each one of the six miniatures directly relate to the words of the Psalm. In the top miniature, for instance, an elderly person can be seen standing next to a young boy, his son, as an illustration of the words "And see thy children's children" (verse 6). In the miniature below, a woman is seen in a vineyard  "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine" (verse 3), etc.

 

And where is this happy family meant to reside? The answer lies within verse 5: "The Lord bless thee out of Zion; and see thou the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life". This combination of the image of Jerusalem and the miniatures surrounding it are an expression of both personal and collective longings  the Messianic hope for the return to Jerusalem and the hope to establish a family there.

 

Reinforcement for this idea is also found in the rich colorful background in which a series of pictures is integrated: between twined strands of grape vines, hung with bunches of heavy grapes, various birds are seen. On the side are two Renaissance fountains with flowing water. This is a depiction of the verse: "For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel" (Isaiah 5: 7). A vineyard that bears its fruit is a known metaphor for the redemption of Israel at the End of Days as well as for a family that is blessed with descendants.

 

Two sets of miniatures surround the frame of the text. In one set appear the symbols of the twelve Tribes of Israel. Above the symbol of each Tribe appears the matching zodiac sign (according to Midrash Yalkut Shimoni). The second set appears intermittently between the symbols of the Tribes-zodiac, and includes allegorical figures of the senses, the four seasons and the four foundations of the world according to Aristotle (air, water, fire and earth).

 

[In comparison- Psalms 128 also appears in a ketubah from Rome, Italy 1739 (335), but only in decorated verses that appear in the frame of the page, not in the illustrations themselves.]

 
  

 

 

 

 

Casale Monferrato, Italy, 1671

Rome, Italy 1771 Exhibition Home Venice, Italy, 1674  Casale Monferrato, Italy, 1671  

 

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Casale Monferrato, Italy, 1671During the second half of the 17th century- in many ways the golden age of ketubah decoration in northern Italy, mostly in Venice and its surroundings- the meanings associated with the pictures of Jerusalem on ketubot became established and set.
 
One of the most complicated and sophisticated types of decoration that developed in Venice is displayed here in a ketubah commemorating a wedding held in Casale Monferrato (a suburb of Piedmont in north-west Italy). In this ketubah a whole and encompassing picture of the Jewish world, with a fascinating integrated perspective on Jerusalem, is presented.  The Holy City appears in the large medallion in the center of the top part of the ketubah, similarly to the way it is displayed in the ketubah from Venice, 1674. However, Jerusalem has a deeper meaning in the decorative plan of this ketubah. Surrounding the picture of the city are three miniatures that illustrate Psalm 128- a psalm that describes the ideal family life in Messianic Jerusalem- the very same ideal family life that is traditional to read about during Italian-Jewish marriage ceremonies until this very day.
 
Each one of the six miniatures directly relate to the words of the Psalm. For instance, in the top miniature an elderly person can be seen standing next to a young boy, his son, as an illustration of the words, "And see thy children's children" (verse 6). In the miniature below, a woman is seen in a vineyard, "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine" (verse 3), etc. And where is this happy family meant to live? The answer is in verse 5, " The Lord bless thee out of Zion; and see thou the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life".  This combination of the picture of Jerusalem and the miniatures surrounding it, therefore is an expression of both personal and national hopes-  the Messianic hope for the return to Jerusalem and the hope to establish a family there.
 
Reinforcement for this idea is also found in the rich colorful background in which a series of pictures is integrated: between twined strands of grape vines, hung with bunches of heavy grapes, various birds are seen, and on the side, there are two Renaissance fountains with flowing water. This is a depiction of the verse, "For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel" (Isaiah 5: 7). A vineyard that bears its fruit is an accepted metaphor for the redemption of Israel at the End of Days as well as for a family that is blessed with descendants.
 
Two sets of miniatures surround the frame of the text. In one set the symbols of the twelve Tribes of Israel with the name of the Tribe on top of it and the symbol from the zodiac that is appropriate to it (according to Midrash Yalkut Shimoni) appears. The second set appears intermittently between the symbols of the Tribes/zodiac and it includes allegorical figures of the senses, the four seasons and the four foundations of the world according to Aristotle (air, water, fire and earth).
 
[In comparison- Psalms 128 also makes an appearance in the ketubah from Rome, Italy 1739 (335), but only via decorated verses that appear in the frame of the page, and not in the illustrations.]