If I tell you about the Treasure of Colmar, does it evoke something in you? It is quite possible that it does not, and yet it is a very beautiful collection of jewels that is kept in Paris. If I mention it to you, it is because this treasure is going to leave its relative confidentiality in Paris to offer itself a beautiful exhibition in the United States since it is going to join, for a few months, the showcases of the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it will remain from July 22 to January 12, 2020.
Ring with sapphire from the Colmar treasure, second quarter of the 14th century. Ceylon sapphire and gold, 2.3 × 2.04 cm. Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Âge. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY (Cl.20667)
So what exactly is the Colmar treasure? Discovered in 1863 by workmen tearing down a wall in an old house in the Jewish quarter of Colmar (Alsace), it consists of 50 pieces of silverware (mainly jewellery) and also 300 coins. The entire treasure dates from the very end of the 13th century and the first years of the 14th century. It is known that this treasure was buried during the great epidemic of the Black Death which swept through the region between 1348 and 1349 and which caused a great deal of persecution of the Jewish community, which was then accused of being responsible for it. It was bought by the Musée de Cluny in 1923 and is now almost entirely preserved.
Jewish wedding ring, from the Colmar treasure, circa 1300 but before 1348. Gold and enamel. 3.5 x 2.3 cm. Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY (Cl.20685)
Although this treasure contains several objects that Christian families might have owned, some pieces attest that it belonged to a Jewish family. Thus, this collection is rich in truly exceptional pieces. Among the pieces to be retained is a superb gold wedding ring, one of the oldest preserved, probably created around 1300 in Italy. It is decorated with a small building that symbolises both the couple’s new home and the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem. They bear the Hebrew words “mazel tov” meaning “good omen”, “good luck”.
Brooch in gilded silver, sapphires, rubies, garnets and pearls from the Comar treasure. 3,7 x 3,7 cm. Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY (Cl.20672).
The Musée de Cluny also holds a rare key to a chest that was used to keep the family’s precious objects during the Sabbath. During this important time of the week, Jewish law forbade women to work and therefore to carry objects such as bags, keys, but also their bulky jewellery, which they had to lock in their box. They could wear the key to the box, attached by a chain, provided it was made of gold or silver and looked like a piece of jewellery. This rare preserved example is unfinished: it has kept its cast iron cone and has burrs, whereas these keys should have been polished. Finally, the gold clasp richly decorated with sapphires, rubies, garnets and pearls is in a remarkable state of preservation.
Gold and onyx ring from the Colmar Treasure, second half of the 13th century or early 14th century. 2.3 × 1.97 cm. Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY (Cl.20668)
So, before the pieces leave Paris, don’t hesitate to go and admire them one last time. Otherwise, you can see them in New York in the MET Cloisters where they will be presented. They will be accompanied by other objects that bear witness to the history of European Jewish communities and the perils they had to face during the 14th century.
See you soon and enjoy!
From 22 July 2019 to 12 January 2020