Rare Torah ark curtain made by Jewish-Italian artist in 1755 on display at St. Louis Art Museum

By Jordan Palmer*

It’s important that Jews of the 21st century understand and keep alive, the spirit and importance of past Jewish community’s contributions to society, including the area of the arts. Despite persecution and exile, Jews throughout the world have always been key contributors to the arts, both as patrons and artists. The art that has survived the centuries must tell its story. Now, it’s our turn to listen.
In March, The Saint Louis Art Museum presented “Signed in Silk: Introducing a Sacred Jewish Textile,” an exhibition highlighting an extraordinary 2019 acquisition, a 1755 Torah Ark Curtain, or “Parokhet.” The free exhibition is on view in Gallery 100 through Oct. 3.
After this story was originally published in January, word has spread about the Torah Curtain, and the story it tells. This weekend, our partners at Forward published their own version, thus finding more national and international interest in this rare art, that you can see without flying out of town.
Artist Simhah Viterbo embroidered a dedicatory inscription across the lower edge of this magnificent textile when she was only 15. The year was 1755, and Viterbor was living in the Italian port city of Ancona on the Adriatic coast. Viterbo was continuing in a long tradition of Italian Jewish women who created sumptuous textiles for their synagogues.

*This article originally appeared on St Lewis Jewish Light on August 1, 2021.