More beautiful than a porcelain monkey, this Torah ark curtain was donated by Moses and Fromet Mendelssohn to what I’m guessing was their local synagogue in Berlin. The embroidered delicate flowers, carnations, roses, lilies in full color are woven into the cream white of Fromet Mendelssohn’s wedding dress.
While I doubt that she made the piece itself, I would like to think that Fromet was the motivating and organizing genius behind the commission of this work of ritual art, that it shows her hand and eye at work. At the same time, the fresh floral colors recalls to the mind the opening chapter of Mendelssohn’s Kohelet Musar, in which the so-called preacher of morals is out musing in a field of blooming flowers.
I saw this thing for the first time ever in third episode of Simon Schama’s “Story of the Jews,” which you can watch in its entirety on the PBS website. Say what you want about Schama and the series, he shows you objects and things that most of us have never knew existed. A lot of minutes are spent lingering over this precious Mendelssohn artifact. As described by Schama, the Enlightenment Judaism (Jonathan Karp has called it Aesthetic Judaism) embroidered into and out of this ritual object is both saturated, alive and ablaze, as well as botanized and catalogued.