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Celebrating the Festival of Lights

We’re celebrating Hanukkah with a few beautiful objects from The Met collection that put the holiday in a beautiful light indeed

In a distinctive ceremony, Jews light the menorah during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, an ancient holiday commemorating the triumph of the Jews, under Judas Maccabeus, over the oppressing Seleucid Empire in 164 B.C., and celebrating Maccabeus’s re-dedication of the defiled Holy Temple.

Initial A with the Battle of the Maccabees. Italian, made in probably Bologna, Italy. Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment; 8 1/16 x 5 15/16 in.; ca. 1360–70. Gift of Bashford Dean, 1923 (23.21.4)


Beginning the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the central feature of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles or oil lamps each evening, one on the first night, two on the second, and so on.

Bowl fragments with menorah, shofar, and Torah ark. Roman. Glass, gold leaf; 2 11/16 x 2 3/4 x 1/4 in. overall; 300–350 A.D. Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.145.1a, b)


A longstanding symbol of Judaism, the menorah is a special candleholder or lamp holder with eight receptacles for oil/candles, and a further receptacle for the center light (the shamas) used for kindling the other lights. 

Baraffael Family Hanukkah Lamp. Gaspare Vanneschi (Italian, active Rome, 1758–1787). Silver, embossed, engraved, punched; soft wood back support;  16 9/16 × 11 9/16 × 3 3/4 in.; 1773–75. Purchase, Acquisitions Fund, Friends of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Gifts, Renée E. and Robert A. Belfer, Leon D. and Debra R. Black, Betsy and Ed Cohen/Arete, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Fisch, Álvaro Saieh Bendeck, Ruth and Andrew Suzman, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and Merryl H. and James S. Tisch Gifts, 2018 (2018.89)


The menorah’s eight branches commemorate the miracle in which the last jug of pure olive oil, which should have lasted only one day, kept the Temple Menorah alight for eight days. The inscription on the base of a sumptuous 19th-century example from Lvov, Poland, reads: “With You is the fountain of life; by Your light do we see light.” (Psalms 36:10)

Hanukkah lamp. Polish, Lviv. Silver: cast, chased and engraved; 33 9/16 × 23 1/8 in.; 1866–72. On loan from The Moldovan Family Collection (L.2018.60a–qq)


Today, the menorah is an instantly recognizable symbol of the Jewish faith. (It even appears in the official emblem of the modern State of Israel.) For millennia, artists have reinterpreted this graphically distinctive vessel as a sign of beloved tradition and of an ancient religion.

Menorah. Mark Podwal (American, born 1945). Gouache and colored pencil on paper; 14 x 11 1/8 in.; 1995. Purchase, Gift of 134 Artists, by exchange, 1996 (1996.329.1)


Celebrate the holidays with cards, ornaments, and other giftable delights from The Met Store.

Shahn: Menorah Holiday Cards (set of 15), $18

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