Release Date: November 8, 2013

Masterpieces & Curiosities
New Exhibition Series Explores Works from the Jewish Museum

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Rare Medieval Aquamanile Highlighted in First Offering

New York, NY - Beginning November 8, the Jewish Museum will launch a new series of exhibitions focused on individual works in its world-renowned collection. Over the course of seven exhibitions, from 2013 to 2017, the Jewish Museum’s curators will explore objects that highlight the breadth and diversity of the collection, ranging from an iconic Alfred Stieglitz photograph to a Moroccan wedding costume and a painting of a Passover seder by Carnegie Prize-winner Nicole Eisenman. These intimate Masterpieces & Curiosities exhibitions will provide new insights into works from the Museum’s collection-contextualizing, examining, and rethinking the piece on view by surrounding it with other artworks, documents, and source materials.

The first exhibition in this series, Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Medieval Aquamanile, focuses on an extremely rare, late twelfth-century bronze lion aquamanile, recently acquired from the Michael and Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection sale at Sotheby’s in April 2013. Aquamanilia are imaginatively-shaped pitchers containing water for washing hands. The later addition of a Hebrew inscription transformed this particular example into a Jewish ritual object probably for use in a synagogue. The exhibition examines the social contexts in which the aquamanile was created and used, and explores issues it raises about valuation, sanctification, and cultural borrowing.

The aquamanile will be displayed for the first time since its acquisition, accompanied by several objects that were similarly converted from secular to religious use-including a Hanukkah lamp created from a military helmet plaque and a pewter dinner plate adapted into an intricately-engraved ceremonial object for Passover meals. Also on view is a pair of blessing hands from a nineteenth-century American Torah ark that depict the type of ritual in which the aquamanile was likely used. As part of the synagogue service on certain occasions, a descendant of the priests of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem blesses the congregation, spreading his hands in the gesture seen in this pair of carved wooden hands.

Oversize images of a manuscript illustrating a hand washing ritual and related aquamanilia from other museum collections will be displayed along one wall of the gallery. The exhibition will also feature a large reproduction of an X-ray providing clues about the aquamanile’s creation, use, and repair over its eight-hundred-year history.

The Masterpieces & Curiosities series, organized by Jens Hoffmann, Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Public Programs and Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant, is scheduled to run through 2017. This first offering, Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Medieval Aquamanile, is curated by Susan L. Braunstein, Henry J. Leir Curator.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Medieval Aquamanile

November 8, 2013-March 23, 2014

This first Masterpieces & Curiosities installment centers around a rare Jewish aquamanile, a lion-shaped hand-washing pitcher made of bronze and created in Germany in the twelfth century, surrounded by five additional works to provide further context.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Diane Arbus’s Jewish Giant

April 11, 2014-August 3, 2014

This exhibition focuses on the subject of Diane Arbus’s A Jewish giant at home with his parents, in the Bronx, N.Y. , 1970, using ephemera, sound recordings, and family photos to provide an intimate look into one of Arbus’s most recognized yet least understood subjects. Curated by Daniel S. Palmer, Leon Levy Assistant Curator.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Jewish American Quilt

September 12, 2014-February 1, 2015

This exhibition showcases a colorful patchwork quilt bearing Eastern European and American imagery. A wonderful testimony to the acculturation process undergone by newly arrived Jewish immigrants, the quilt was originally owned by a Russian Jewish family that likely arrived in America during the late 19th century. Curated by Claudia Nahson, Morris & Eva Feld Curator.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: Nicole Eisenman’s Seder

March 13 - August 9, 2015

Nicole Eisenman’s painting Seder (2010) features a family seated for a traditional Passover dinner. In this Masterpieces & Curiosities exhibition, Eisenman’s Seder, a painting commissioned by The Jewish Museum, is presented with objects from the institution’s world-renowned Judaica collection. Curated by Joanna Montoya, Neubauer Family Foundation Assistant Curator.

/Masterpieces & Curiosities: Alfred Stieglitz’s Steerage

September 18, 2015 - February 7, 2016

This exhibition focuses on Alfred Stieglitz’s iconic 1907 photogravure, The Steerage. The image of passengers aboard a ship to Paris is considered a masterpiece of straight photography, as well as an important social document of immigrant life in New York City. Curated by Rebecca Shaykin, Leon Levy Assistant Curator.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: A Question of Identity: Two Eighteenth-Century Portraits

March 18 - August 7, 2016

A Question of Identity will explore the uncertain history of two impressive portraits in the collection of The Jewish Museum. Curated by Stephen Brown, Assistant Curator.

Masterpieces & Curiosities: The Grand Costume, a Nineteenth-Century Moroccan Wedding Dress

September 16, 2016 - February 5, 2017

The Grand Costume (El-keswa el-kbira in Arabic) was a traditional wedding dress worn by Jewish brides in Morocco from medieval times to the early twentieth century. The late nineteenth century dress and other contextual objects will tell the story of Jewish expulsion from Spain and migration into Northern Africa, and the rich cultural heritage of Sephardim in a Muslim land. Curated by Emily Casden, Curatorial Assistant.

About the Jewish Museum

Located on Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, the Jewish Museum is one of the world’s preeminent institutions devoted to exploring art and Jewish culture from ancient to contemporary, offering intellectually engaging, educational, and provocative exhibitions and programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The Museum was established in 1904, when Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated 26 ceremonial objects to The Jewish Theological Seminary as the core of a museum collection. Today, the Museum maintains a collection of over 30,000 works of art, artifacts, and broadcast media reflecting global Jewish identity, and presents a diverse schedule of internationally acclaimed temporary exhibitions.

The Jewish Museum is located at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, New York City. Museum hours are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, 11am to 5:45pm; Thursday, 11am to 8pm; and Friday, 11am to 4pm. Museum admission is $15.00 for adults, $12.00 for senior citizens, $7.50 for students, free for visitors 18 and under and Jewish Museum members. Admission is Pay What You Wish on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm and free on Saturdays. For information on the Jewish Museum, the public may call 212.423.3200 or visit the website at

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