A Spice Box Fit for a Pope

Giovacchino Belli spice box

Jewish spice box by Giovacchino Belli/Minneapolis Institute of Arts

…A recent museum acquisition, the [Jewish spice] box was created between 1798 and 1810 by Giovacchino Belli (1756-1822), then Rome’s leading silversmith who typically worked for Pope Pius VII and for aristocrats. (The artist’s work is also represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt, and includes other Jewish content.)

A few months after acquiring the box, Eike Schmidt, James Ford Bell curator of decorative arts and sculpture, saw another work by the artist: a travel pyxis, or receptacle which holds the consecrated host in Catholic services, in an auction catalog. Making a pair was a no-brainer.

“To my knowledge, we’re the only museum in the country that has two major works by the same silversmith for two different world religions,” he said. And the two — both of which are receptacles of organic material used in religious services — offer interesting comparisons and contrasts.

Read more of my article “A Spice Box Fit for a Pope,” which appears in the Jewish Daily Forward.

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