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Jewish Medals At TEFAF


Bishop correctly points out that the Hebrew inscription isn’t perfect, but he calls the letters “well formed” (which isn’t entirely correct), and he deciphers what he calls the last word in the inscription, rosh (head), although that’s only the last word in the Hebrew inscription if one reads Hebrew backwards—from left to right. The true final word is elyon, and not rosh.

“No doubt Henry greatly approved of this medal. The message was loud and clear. His title “Supreme Head” spelt out in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, proclaimed to the world that the combined learning of all traditions, Hebraic, Greek and Roman, the Old and the New Testaments, all supported his claim to be God’s appointed Head of the Church,” Bishop writes.

An 1806 bronze medal depicting Napoleon I, also at Tradart, doesn’t have Hebrew inscriptions, but its subject matter is perhaps the most remarkable and surprising. On the front of the medal, the French engraver and medalist Alexis Joseph Depaulis (1790-1867), who was then 16 years old, depicted a bareheaded Napoleon I in profile dressed in a military uniform. A wreath hovers above Napoleon’s head, and an inscription identifies him by name.

But it’s the reverse, by the engraver Augustin Dupre (1748-1833), which is the most visually arresting. Napoleon, lavishly and regally dressed, stands and holds the Ten Commandments (with seemingly pseudo-Hebraic inscriptions)—rendered as two separate tablets, long and narrow and rounded at the tops. Kneeling before him is what one can only assume is a personification of the Jewish community, represented as Michelangelo’s Moses (beard, horns and all). Dupre appears to have rendered the moment after Moses/Jews presented the tablets to the French emperor.

The bronze was rendered around the time that Napoleon emancipated the Jews in the French empire, and one of the new freedoms was the creation of the Sanhedrin, a representative body named after the biblical assembly of sages and judges. Dupre pays tribute to that act of tolerance in particular, as an inscription beneath the figures states, “Grand Sanhedrin, XXX MAI, MDCCCVI.”

The images are Courtesey of Tradart, Switzerland.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blog.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Full disclosure: This writer’s trip to TEFAF was funded, in large part, by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, which, however, had no role whatsoever in or oversight over this article.

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

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