Spice Container (work of art)
Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- The design of this Havdalah spice box is similar to a turret, an enclosed small tower often seen on castles and occasionally on churches and houses.
- The deer was a popular symbol in Polish and European heraldry or coat of arms. Some members of nobility (the social class ranked just below royalty) kept deer as pets.
- The Havdalah ceremony is a multisensory experience. It involves sight (lighting a candle with many wicks), touch (holding ritual objects), taste (drinking wine or grape juice), and smell (sniffing the spices).
- This spice box is an example of filigree, a metalwork technique that uses wire to create complex shapes and patterns that resemble lace.
This silver filigree spice container was used in the Havdalah (or Separation) ceremony that marks the end of the Sabbath. A special feature of this spice container is the selective use of gilding, or applying a thin layer of gold, to accent the architecture of the tower.
Spice containers are among the most common Jewish ceremonial objects. Spice towers like this one would have been filled with sweet herbs and spices such as cloves and cinnamon during the Havdalah ceremony. It is believed that smelling the spices expresses the hope that the sweetness of the Sabbath might carry through the week to come. Curatorial consultant Gabriel Goldstein provides an alternative theory, stating that the fragrant spices “are akin to smelling salts used to invigorate the individual, as at the moment of Havdalah there is a loss of a special extra soul or spirit that inhabits the body during the Sabbath.” Whatever the reason for its use, the spice container traditionally has been an essential part of the Jewish home.
Resources for Teachers:
- Explore a similar spice box from the Jewish Museum in London.
- Read an article about Poland and its Jewish community.
Resources for Students:
- Watch a video and read an article about the Havdalah ceremony and the use of a spice box.
- See in this image how deer are used in a Polish/Galician Hanukkah menorah from the 1700s.
- Make your own Havdalah spice bags. Decorate small drawstring bags and fill them with a variety of spices.