||An Italian Ketubbah from Florence, 1854
with Added Decorations Description and Analysis by Shalom Sabar
A. The Jews of Florence and Their Ketubbot
The Jews of Florence reached the height of their cultural efflorescence during the period of Renaissance. During these period prominent Florentine Jews mingled with the important humanists of the period and engaged themselves in the new sciences and cultural trends of the time. In the subsequent centuries, generally referred to as the "age of the ghetto" (1571-1799), the community declined. Thus although Florence continued to be to a certain degree a prominent and influential center of the Italian visual arts, the local Jews did not partake actively in these trends. The conditions of life in the crowded ghetto were harsh and did not encourage artistic creativity.
The Ketubbot of Florence are accordingly simpler than those of other Jewish centers in Italy (e.g., Venice, Ferrara, Mantua, Rome, Ancona). Color decoration was limited to standard floral motifs and geometric forms. Perhaps due to rabbinical injunction, and in contrast to other Italian towns, no human representations were included in the Ketubbot. The parchment has often a round, arched top. Florence Ketubbot emphasized instead the ornament of the word. Large verses in calligraphic Hebrew script were written around the frame. In addition, some Florence Ketubbot contain rhyming wedding poems, especially written in honor of the specific couple whose marriage the Ketubbah records.
B. The Text of the Ketubbah
This Florence Ketubbah is inscribed on a rectangular piece of parchment measuring 52 X 45 cm. The text is written in a single column with wide, even lines - justified to the right as well as the left. The scribe used square Hebrew letters, typical of Italian-Jewish scribes in nineteenth century Italy. Unlike the Ketubbot of some other Italian towns (e.g., Livorno, Ancona, Venice), Florence Ketubbot do not contain a special conditions section (Tena 'im).
The wedding took place on Sunday, the seventh of Shevat, 5614 to the Creation (paralleling February 5, 1854). While Wednesdays and Fridays were the most popular wedding days in the earlier periods, the selection of Sunday undoubtedly reflects the new times, the Emancipation and secularization process of European Jewry.
The place of the wedding is describes as "פירינצי מתא דיתבא על נהרי ארנו ומניוני" "Here in the city of Florence [Firenze], which is situated on the rivers Arno and Mugnione" (the Mugnione is in fact a small stream which runs through the city till this day). The bridegroom is Reuben, son the honored and respected Moshe [Moise] Piazza, while she is "the honored and modest virgin Leah, daughter of Jacob Lampronti. Both families are known in the annals of Italian Jewry, especially the family of the bride. Thus, the most prominent member of Leah's family in the previous generations had been the illustrious and noted Rabbi Isaac Lampronti of Ferrara (1679-1756). Rabbi Lampronti's most important work is the multivolume talmudic encyclopedia Pahad Yitzchak (published over a long period - from Venice, 1750 till 1960's).
The dowry of Leah Lampronti amounted to 19,100 Frecesconi, Florentine coinage - of which 18,000 Francesconi in cash and 1,100 in jeweiry and her Corredo (an Italian term for "trousseau"). To this amount the bridegroom added a voluntary increment in the value of 1,910 Fracesconi (that is, 10% of her dowry). His total obligation thus reached 21,010 Fracesconi. The detailed itemization of these amounts was recorded in a civil contract drawn
by a local notary known as Ferdinando Cartoni, on the first of February (Febario - the Italian name written in Hebrew letters), in the year 1854 "to their account" (i.e., the Christian calendar).
It should be noted that registering the marriage in a civil contract was required in this period, reflecting the changes of the time (when the Jews lived in the ghettoes in the previous generations, and conducted their daily affairs autonomously, marriages were an internal affair and no civil deed had to be issued). It is also important to note that the notary Cartoni was apparently working in the service of the community in this period. Thus, for example in another Florentine Ketubbah, dated nine years earlier (1845), his name is recorded again as the civil notary. This ketubbah is preserved in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, new York (Ketubbah no. 211).
C. The Decoration of the Ketubbah
As mentioned in the introduction, the decoration of Florence Ketubbot is usually simple and does not include figurative images. The two episodes at the lower section of the page, located between three pillars, are obviously a recent addition, which does not fit the style and typical motifs of florentine Ketubbot even in the nineteenth century.
Genuine and typical are the inscriptions which surround the text column. A prominent inscription in monumental square Hebrew letters follows the rectangular border of the Ketubbah. The inscription is actually taken from the wedding ceremony of Italian Jews, mentioning ideal biblical couples - the patriarchs and matriarchs. It begins at lower left border and continues clockwise, reading: "May the bridegroom and bride be blessed as God blessed Abraham and Sarah. May the bridegroom and bride be blessed as God blessed Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel". It is interesting that Leah is missing in this list - perhaps because the scribe ran out of space. In other ketubbot, also included are two additional couples: Adam and Eve and Mordechai and Esther.
An additional genuine and typical blessing appears above the Ketubbah text proper: בסימנא טבא ובמזלא מעליא. This is a typical Sephardi-Italian blessing in Aramaic, meaning "With a good sign and under favorable constellation".
All in all, and save for the recently added episodes at the bottom of the parchment, this is a typical nineteenth century Florentine Ketubbah, which carries on the tradition of Ketubbah decoration in seventeenth and eighteenth century Florence.