Meta-Museum – Megillah

Pictured left is a rare late 19th century Chinese Export Silver gilt megillah made by Wang Hing and bearing the Wang Hing mark with a secondary ideogram mark that reads “Rao J”. Rao was actually a Singapore-based silversmith, making this collaboration with Wang Hing all the more unusual.

Examples of Chinese silver Judaica are extraordinarily rare and this may well be unique and must surely have been produced at the direct request of the present owner’s grandfather, Ezra Ezekiel Ezra [d. circa 1920].

Ezra Ezekiel Ezra was an Iraqi Sephardic Jew from Baghdad who worked in China in the second half of the nineteenth century as a spice and silk merchant. Several members of the Ezra family were scribes and widely travelled and possibly one of them may have supplied the scroll. However, the presence of Sephardi Jews in China is not as rare as it may sound. Jews have had a presence in China since the 2nd century BC and in the 10th century AD Jews from present day Iran established a city in Kaifeng – a community that grew and thrived under special Imperial recognition and status.

Jews, historically, were known to have been merchants along both the silk and spice routes. The Sephardi silversmiths of Sassania [modern day Iran] had produced and sold high quality silver items to China since the Tang dynasty – early items having both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, with later items becoming purely Chinese in shape and decoration; the latter coinciding also with the establishment of Kaifeng.

It is known this megillah was acquired by Ezra Ezekiel Ezra in the second half of the 19th century. This does not necessarily mean he had commissioned the item; it could well have been made for Jews living in China and is probably a very early Wang Hing piece.

The megillah handle is formed as a bamboo stem, the hexagonal case cloisonné enamelled in light green and deep blue with alternate panels of prunus and bamboo foliage, the handle to the scroll with ring pull and two hinged clasps, the domed terminal with crenulated border and enamelled with further blue and green foliage and with ball finial. The internal scroll is ink on vellum, written in Sephardic Hebrew square script, vellum 5.5 cm high, text 4.1 cm high, 15 lines per column. The overall length of the case is 17.5cm

This item €30,000 at Christies, Amsterdam in 2005

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