The arch of the ketubbah is surrounded by a square border, filled with a running motif of colourful acanthus leaves enclosing the twelve signs of the Zodiac, symmetrically arranged with four signs along each of the horizontal sides and two along the vertical ones. Each sign alternates with flowers and pomegranates, while each corner of the frame is decorated with a medallion encircling one of the four Sanctuary Implements. Topping this composition is a golden knot (“Salomon’s knot”) flanked by a symmetric composition of a vase with flowers and a bird perched on a flowered branch. Above, is the Hebrew inscription in bold golden letters “with good omen.”
The signs of the Zodiac start from the upper right-hand side of the border with Lamb (Aries), the sign of the first Hebrew month (Nissan) depicted as a ram, and run counterclockwise, with Bull (Taurus) represented as a bull, Twins (Gemini) as two naked human figures united at their shoulder, and holding hands, and Crab (Cancer) depicted as a red crab. In the left band of the frame, are Lion (Leo), represented as a lion with a protruding tongue and front left leg raised, and Virgin (Virgo), depicted as a woman in contemporary costume holding a fan in her left hand. In the lower band are Scales (Libra) represented as balanced scales; Bow (Sagittarius) depicted as a centaur pulling the bow; Scorpion (Scorpio) represented by a black scorpion (these last two are transposed, see: General Document, Remarks) and Kid (Capricorn) pictured as a standing goat. Finally, in the right band of the frame, are Bucket (Aquarius) depicted as a human figure dressed in red, pouring water from two bowls held each in one of his hands, and Fish (Pisces) represented by two inverted fish one above the other, whose mouths are connected by a line.
The four Sanctuary Implements enclosed in the angular medallions are: on the upper right, the Laver and its stand (Ex. 30:18 ff.) inscribed above with the corresponding Hebrew name: “כיור וכנו”; and, on the upper left, the seven branches Menorah with its vessels (Ex. 25:31ff.) inscribed “מנורת המאור”. To them correspond, in the lower right side of the frame, the Ark with the Cherubs (Ex. 25:10 ff.) inscribed with “ארון וכרובים” and, in the lower left, the Shewbread table (Ex. 25:23 ff.), inscribed with “שלחן הפנים”. These vessels as well as the medallions are in powdered gold, against the parchment ground and rest on a green platform. The inscriptions that accompany each depiction are in gold square letters.
S | Sanctuary | Sanctuary Implements | Menorah
S | Sanctuary | Sanctuary Implements | Ark of the Covenant
V | Vase | Vase with flowers
H | Heraldic composition | Supporters | Two birds
O | Ornamentation: | Foliate and floral ornaments
H | Heraldic composition | Supporters | Two Putti
S | Sanctuary | Sanctuary Implements | Shewbread table
S | Sanctuary | Sanctuary Implements | Laver and its stand
C | Columns | Twisted columns
F | Family emblem | Morpurgo family emblem (Jonah, Cast Up (Jonah 2:11)).
Full ketubbah: 794 X (535-554) mm
Text space: ca. 228 X ca. 295 mm
One single scribe (Jacob Hai ben Joseph Israel Conegliano)
The text of the ketubbah is written in square Italo-Ashkenazi script in dark brown ink
The witness’ names are written in cursive Italian script in light brown ink.
Number of lines
Text of the ketubbah:
Ruling by stylus and in brown ink, 4 + 20 horizontal lines and 1 + 1 vertical lines.
Pricking for 16 horizontal lines is discernible only in the left margin, with 9 more pricks placed in to their left which do not correspond to the ruled lines.
This Conegliano Ketubbah is a large rectangular parchment whose top is curved. Its decoration is executed in brown ink and coloured in brush yellow, orange, pink, red, magenta, violet, blue, green, gray, brown, black, white and powdered gold.
The text of the ketubbah, written in the lower part of the parchment, is framed by an arch decorated with foliate motifs and flanked by two twisted columns in powdered gold. The arch is surrounded by a square border, filled with a running motif of colourful acanthus leaves enclosing the twelve signs of the Zodiac, symmetrically arranged with four signs along each of the horizontal sides and two along the vertical ones, alternating with flowers and pomegranates; each corner of the frame is decorated with a medallion encircling one of the four Sanctuary Implements.
A panel above the square border is divided into two registers by the gold display Aramaic inscription “with good luck” (בסימנא טבא). Below it, at the centre, is a gold interlace flanked on each side by a vase with two blue flowers and a bird perched on a branch and decorated with other floral and foliate motifs. Above the inscription is an empty shield for the coat-of-arms of the married couple (which was never filled in), held by two winged and naked putti and surmounted by a crown. From the sides of the crown two ribbons extend bearing the inscriptions: “A virtuous woman” (אשת חיל) on the right and “is a crown to her husband” (עטרת בעלה) on the left (Prov. 12, 4).
Along the side margins of the parchment are two strips enclosing the text from Ruth 4:11-12, written in square Hebrew script in partially faded brown ink: on the right, running down from top to the bottom: “and all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said: We are witness. The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou” (ויאמרו כל העם אשר בשער והזקנים עדים יתן יי' את האשה [הבאה] אל ביתך כרחל וכלאה אשר בנו שתיהם את בית ישראל ועשה), continuing on the left, running up from the bottom to the top “worthily in Ephrata, and be famous in Beth-Lehem. And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare untoJudah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman” (חיל באפרתה וקרא שם בבית לחם; ויהי בתיך כבית פרץ אשר ילדה תמר ליהודה מן הזרע אשר יתן יי' לך מן הנערה הזאת).
This ketubbah was written for the marriage of Shemariah, son of Samuel Morpurgo and Bella, daughter of Mordecai Morpurgo, celebrated in Conegliano on Friday 24 February 1741. The Morpurgo is a family name borne by many North Italian families originating from the Styrian city of Marburg (now Maribor, Slovenia), and who then moved to Gorizia and Gradisca d’Isonzo in the north-west Italian region of Friuli (see: Del Bianco Cotrozzi, Gradisca d’Isonzo, 1983; Judaica, XII, 348-349). The usual coat-of-arms of the family, Jonah swallowed by the whale, is known from several ketubbot and other artifacts (see: Roth, “Stemmi”, 1967, pp. 160, 179, 180; Lazar, “Book Binding,” 1977, pp. 70 ff); However, in our ketubbah, the shield usually bearing the coat-of-arms in the upper part of the parchment, was left empty for unknown reasons. The scribe who copied the text did not sign his name, as is the case in most kettubot. The Schuberts (K. Schubert, 1991, 104, fig. 17; U. Schubert, 1992, pp?) suggest that our ketubbah’s scribe and illuminator is Jacob Hai ben Joseph Israel Conegliano, who signed his name in an Italian decorated Passover Haggadah dated 1742-3 (Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College and Klau Library, ms. 450; see: Sabar, Ketubbah, 1989, fig. 5, p. 15). The title page of this Passover Haggadah (photo #) is framed with foliate scrolls enclosing the twelve signs of the Zodiac similar to the frame in our ketubbah. However, the style of the script and of the decoration shows that our ketubbah and the Passover Haggadah were not done by the same hand. It seems that we can attribute to our kettubah’s maker another ketubbah done by him for another member of the Morpurgo family, to the groom, Abraham son of Samuel Hai Morpurgo, who married Moschitta, daughter of Isaac Kohab (=Stella) in Gradisca d’Isonzo in 1744 (Klagenfurt, Kärntner Landesmuseum, inv. 4005, see: K. Schubert, 1991, no. 104 and fig. 17). The shield for the coat of arms of the families was filled in with both the Morpurgo and Stella emblems.
In fact, there is a group of ketubbot closely related to our ketubbah, originating from the Veneto region in Northern Italy and spread to other cities such as Conegliano, Trieste, Padua, Mantua and even Corfu. We know of more than forty ketubbot of this group, whose texts date between the end of the 17th century (among the earliest ones is Venice, 1697 in Venice, Museo Correr, Ket. No. 10, unpublished) to the second half of the 18th century (Ceneda - 1753, unknown site, see: Kaniel, Judaism, 1979, p. 139).
Other specimens displaying identical frames are: Conegliano, 1728 (Los Angeles, Skirball Museum of Hebrew Union College, inv. no. 34. 45, see: Sabar, Ketubbah, 1990, no. 17); Trieste, 1732 (Jerusalem, Museo Nahon di Arte Ebraica e Italiana, no. 294); Spilimbergo, 1752 (Los Angeles, Skirball Museum of Hebrew Union College, inv. no. 34.62, see: Sabar, Ketubbah, 1990, no. 86). Among other specimens whose frames are very similar yet with some changes in composition and motifs are: Venice, 1708 (Venice, Museo Correr, M. 37197, see: Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, pl. 11), Venice, 1722 (Italy, Bruno Finzi Collection, see: Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, pl. 13) and Ferrara, 1749 (Italy, Private Collection, see: Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, pl. 21), all presenting within the angular medallions the symbols of the Four Seasons instead of the Sanctuary Implements. In another ketubbah from Conegliano, dated 1728, the four medallions encircle the verses of a popular epithalamium (see: Sabar, Ketubbah, p. 74 and no. 17).
The motifs and verses depicted in this type of ketubbah frame are typical not only of the Veneto but also of Italian ketubbot decoration in general (for a general discussion see: Sabar, Ketubbah, 1989, pp. 12-21; Fishof, “The Iconographical Origins of the Venetian Ketubbah,” Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, pp. 227-234).
One of the most recurrent motifs is that of the arched gate, which in our case rests on twisted columns. Among the various associations aroused by the gate, is that referring to the wedding ceremony as the entrance into a new life as well as building a new Jewish home. This meaning is connected to the biblical passages from Ruth 4:11-12, usually inscribed along the margins of many ketubbot as in the present case. These verses, celebrating the marriage between Boaz and Ruth, portray the presence of the elderly of the city at the gate, thus being witnesses to this union and blessing the couple for whom the ketubbah was written. Another interpretation could be the gate of the Temple supported by the twisted columns. These columns were believed in the Middle Ages to being the columns of Solomon’s Temple which were brought to Rome. Indeed, depictions of these columns in representations of the Temple are known in many Jewish and non-Jewish Renaissance and Baroque works of art, the most celebrated being Bernini’s Baldacchino in S. Peter in the Vatican. The depiction of the Sanctuary Implements within the four angular medallions of the border of our ketubbah is a clear reference to the Temple, as well as to Jerusalem, which is remembered during the wedding ceremony by reciting the verse from Psalm 137: 6: “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (תדבק לשוני לחיכי אם לא אעלה את ירושלים על ראש שמחתי ). The presence of these motifs – the gate resting on twisted columns and the Sanctuary Implements – are an allusion to Jerusalem, whose real representation is missing in this type of frame (for representation of Jerusalem on Italian Ketubbot see: Fishof, “Jerusalem”, 1982; Lazar, “Gerusalemme”, 1980, pp. 354-362).
Also very common in Italian ketubbot particularly of the Veneto region are the depictions of the signs of the Zodiac, in our case within the square border framing the text. It has to be noticed that the transposition of Sagittarius before Scorpio in our ketubbah is a constant feature in two types of Venetian ketubbot, apparently since the end of the 17th century. In the first type, the Zodiac appears on the upper part of the parchment framing on three sides the panel depicting the city of Jerusalem. In this case, the transposition of the two signs could have been dictated, as suggested by Fishof, by aesthetic purposes for reaching a symmetrical depiction. In this way Scorpio faces Cancer, in the upper corners of this composition, (see: Fishof, “The Origins,” in: Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, p. 230; for an example of this type of ketubbot, see: Mantua, 1733, reproduced in ibid., pl. 17). However, this does not explain the fact that no such symmetry is achieved in the second type of frame to which our ketubbah belongs. It could be that the artist copied the order of the Zodiac, which in both cases is to be read counterclockwise, without paying attention to the distortion. The introduction of the Zodiac in the marriage contracts is both a reference to the wish for Good Luck: “Mazal Tov” said at every good occasion such as marriages and usually inscribed in ketubbot. The depiction of the Zodiac in the ketubbah also reflects the Italian Jews’ interest in astrology, under the influence of their non-Jewish environment (for a longer discussion of the topic see: Sabar, Beginning and Flourishing, 1987, pp. 202-209).
The empty shield in the upper part of our ketubbah is topped by a crown and flanked by the corresponding inscription within two ribbons “A woman of praise is a crown to her husband” (Prov. 12:4), also typical of Italian ketubbot.
Another important and frequent motif appearing in our ketubbah is the knot, known also as “Solomon’s knot.” In many specimens this knot bears the inscription from Song of Songs I, 13: “A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me, thus explaining the motif of the knot as a pictorial symbol of bundle of myrrh as endless love (see discussion of this motif in: Grassi “The symbolism of and Models for Architectural Details in Italian Ketubbot: Hypotheses and Possible Interpretation" in: Ketubbot Italiane, 1984, pp. 33-34).
The workshop that produced our ketubbah frame was probably located in Venice or in a neighboring city in the Veneto region. The artists that executed the decoration were proficient fair artists, and the fact that we know the work of the scribe Jacob of Conegliano, who also illuminated his haggadah for Passover, can be an indication that there were also Jewish artists, who knew how to integrate decoration and Hebrew inscriptions. The workshop, according to the dates registered in the specimens known to us (see above), was probably active between 1697 and the mid 18th century, but it could also be that the frames were altogether produced and sold over a larger range of time to different cities.