The chief holiday in the Jewish calendar is the Sabbath, or Shabbat, each week commemorating the day of rest following creation. Objects of great beauty have been fashioned to celebrate the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday evening with the blessing and kindling of lights and blessings over wine and bread. Lighting the Shabbat candles is meant to usher in the Sabbath, a time of rest, reflection, and renewal. Two candles are lit because the fourth commandment is mentioned twice in the Torah, once when we are reminded to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” and again when we are told to “observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
Distinctly Baroque in style, the base of each of these ornate candlesticks contains panels featuring various biblical scenes, including: the Judgment of Solomon, Jacob’s Dream, Cain and Abel, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, and the Binding of Isaac. These candlesticks are made of silver, with gilding used to create a multi-tonal effect. A Hebrew inscription is also etched into the base of each candlestick, indicating that the candlesticks were once owned by a Jewish couple, Naphtali and Ziporah Herz. It is not known when these candlesticks were acquired by the Herz family. Before coming back into Jewish possession when purchased at auction in 1962 by the Horwitz family, the candlesticks were in the collection of the Marquess of Exeter, Burghly House by Stamford. The title of Marquess of Exeter has long been associated with the Cecil family whose lineage has a very long history, both in England and the United States. Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520-1598) was perhaps the most famous of the Cecil family when he served as chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. The Cecil family also created American ties when John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890-1954) was married to Miss Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900-1976), only daughter of George Washington Vanderbilt (1863-1914) and his wife Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873-1958) of Biltmore, in 1924. The Cecils had two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil. The Cecil family continues to run the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC. This set of grand candlesticks was also exhibited at the International Art Treasures Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1962.
The candlesticks are currently on view on the second floor of the Skirball Museum in the exhibition Ten Treasures from the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, which showcases works of art from the recently acquired collection of Judaica and fine arts objects from the former B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Museum.