Exhibition

Scents for the Soul: A Newly Acquired Havdalah Spice Box by Pope Pius VII’s Silversmith

Exhibition Dates: September 12, 2014 - May 15, 2016

Spice Box, c. 1800
Giovacchino Belli 
Silver
7-15/16 × 2-5/8 × 2-5/8 in. 
The Eloise and Elliot Kaplan Endowment for Judaica

Spice Box, c. 1800
Giovacchino Belli
Silver
7-15/16 × 2-5/8 × 2-5/8 in.
The Eloise and Elliot Kaplan Endowment for Judaica

This spectacular havdalah spice box, recently acquired by Mia, was made in Rome during a crucial period of emancipation. A time when Roman Jews first enjoyed full civil rights, albeit briefly.

It was made by Giovacchino Belli (1756–1822), the leading Roman silversmith of his time, who generally worked for the pope and high-ranking nobility. A symbol of religious freedom and a testament to the new status of the Roman Jewish community, the spice box epitomizes the neoclassical style, often associated with enlightenment and freedom. It is the same style employed by the young American nation in those years to symbolize its freedom and independence.

Belli’s spice box is interpreted here in the context of neoclassical silver, the history of the Jewish community in Rome, and the havdalah ceremony that concludes Shabbat and marks the threshold of the new workweek.