A cache of silver and bronze objects from the 17th to 20th centuries—hidden away from Nazis during World War II—has been rediscovered and restored. These works of art are on display in America for the first time in Lost Treasure of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice. The MFAH presentation is complemented by Venetian paintings from the same time period.
Jewish residents played a valuable role in the economy of Venice from the time of the Renaissance. In 1516, the Venetian Senate segregated Jews in a six-acre area that housed several thousand people and five synagogues, at the site of a former foundry (geto).
The objects in Lost Treasure of the Jewish Ghetto of Venice, made by master craftsmen using traditional silversmithing and bronze-casting methods, represent an in-depth look at Venetian Jewish silver from the 1600s to early 1900s. When Nazis invaded Italy in 1943, two elderly Jewish religious leaders stored the pieces in a secret hiding place within a Venetian synagogue. The treasures remained untouched for more than 60 years, until they were accidentally discovered, and they have now been restored by Venetian Heritage Inc.
The exhibition comprises predominantly liturgical works, including wooden Torah cases, silver Torah crowns, and lamps of silver and bronze. Among the objects that relate to dining traditions are silver vegetable plates, used during Passover Seders, and a silver ewer and basin, used for the washing of hands prior to eating. Also on view are Venetian paintings from a private collection and from the collections of the MFAH and Houston's Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation.