The Art of Matrimony: Thirty Splendid Marriage Contracts from The Jewish Theological Seminary Library

An Exhibition of Ketubbot Opening at The Jewish Museum

Press Contact: Eve Glasberg
Office: (212) 678-8089

February 23, 2011, New York, NY

The Art of Matrimony: Thirty Splendid Marriage Contracts from The Jewish Theological Seminary Library will open at The Jewish Museum on March 11, 2011, and remain on view until June 26, 2011. The 30 examples of ketubbot include highlights from the collection of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, which consists of more than 600 works and is one of the world’s greatest, with superb examples of virtually every extant type.

Ketubbah (Herat, Afghanistan, 1867) from The Library of JTSKetubbot (marriage contracts) have been integral to Jewish marriage for millennia. Through the ages, ketubbot were not merely legal documents, but magnificent works of art. Beginning with the first simply decorated examples from medieval Egypt, they were frequently embellished with decorative borders and fine calligraphy. Over time, the ornamentation became increasingly elaborate, and by the 17th century they were richly decorated with figurative, floral, architectural, and geometric designs. Regional stylistic traditions developed, emanating from the two major centers of ketubbah ornamentation, Italy and the Middle East.

Hand-decorated ketubbot began to go out of fashion in the late 19th century, but were revived in the 1960s with highly individualized texts and ornamentation, perhaps as part of the renewed interest in exploring Jewish identity. Like their predecessors, contemporary ketubbot often reflect social and religious change.

Visitors to the Art of Matrimony exhibition at The Jewish Museum will see ketubbot that represent the great diversity and range of Jewish settlement throughout history, from one of the earliest known decorated pieces (a 12th-century fragment from Egypt) to more recent examples from the United States. These exquisite ketubbot provide a wealth of information on the artistic creativity, cultural interactions, and social development of the communities in which they were produced, as well as a fascinating look at the lives of individual couples, varied marriage customs, and the spread of artistic styles through commerce and trade. Ketubbot were kept in the homes of married Jews, be they wealthy or poor, scholar or layman, living in the West under Christian governance or in the East under Muslim rule. The ketubbot in the show come from Iraq and Iran, Italy and the Netherlands, India, Morocco, the Ukraine, and other countries. As testimonies to the sacredness of marriage, as works of art, and as repositories of Jewish history, these extraordinary treasures offer insights and delight in equal measure.

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