Shabbat Candlesticks: Judaica in the Gothic Room

Discover the treasures of the Gothic Room—one of the few pieces of Judaica in the collection.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner created the Gothic Room, a space that was not regularly open to the public during her lifetime—which is why it’s no surprise so many of its stories remain to be told. This room features paintings, sculpture, furniture, and stained glass produced in Europe during the Middle Ages and beyond. From one corner, Gardner herself presides over the arrangement, in a portrait painted by John Singer Sargent in 1888. 

A dark photo of the gothic room

Gothic Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Photo: Sean Dungan

Two of the lesser known objects in this room are candlesticks, acquired by Gardner before 1900. In her home at 152 Beacon Street, she placed them in her dining room and, after the museum was completed, she installed them on a piece of furniture in the Gothic Room. 

Each one features an imperial eagle—a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire, suggesting an origin in Poland or Prussia. In fact, a metal customs stamp indicates that at some point they passed through Hamburg, formerly part of Prussia. A similar example sold at auction, also in brass, dates to the nineteenth century.

On one candelabra, the charming deer present a clue to their ceremonial purpose—an inscription in Hebrew.

Put together and translated, it reads “To light the candle of the Sabbath.” In the Jewish faith, candles are lit on Friday night to usher in Shabbat, a day of rest, and a blessing is recited.

The candlesticks stand out because they are one of the museum’s few pieces of Judaica. Gardner was fascinated by the material culture of different religions, above all Christianity but also Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. They attest to her wide-ranging interests and all-embracing cultural outlook.

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