History and Copper

In the Jewish context, the ancient art of copper repoussé is associated with the biblical figures of Bezalel son of Uri and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, architects of the Tabernacle. This art form persisted throughout Jewish history, as attested by prayer and ritual items used in the synagogue and the Jewish home.

A significant Jewish center for artistic metal work developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Eastern Europe, particularly in western Ukraine, Galicia, Volyn and Podolia. The presence of these items in museums and private collections reveals only a fraction of the wealth of these works.

Historic copper repoussé was advanced and rejuvenated by the work of Jewish artists in Poland in the period between the two world wars. Numerous metalloplastics exhibitions were held in Warsaw and Lodz during the 1920s and 1930s, engendering interest in artistic circles and among critics


World War II devastated metalloplastics. The Nazis collected the Jewish metal items and moved some of them to Germany for documentation. They melted down most of them, turning them into weapons or other items. This led to the extinction of a body of Jewish art that was familiar in Poland, where almost every home had metal items, and wealthy homes frequently had collections of utilitarian, ritual and artistic items, and later, often repoussé works. Metalloplastics also nearly vanished. The works of Merzer, who was able to leave Poland at an early stage, preserve a very significant corpus of metalloplastics. The recent Doctorate work on Merzer entitled “Memory Hand-Hammered in Copper” attempt to trace the various threads in the tapestry of Merzer’s life and work. These threads lead and are led to various times and places and echo in a modern Jewish euphony that is faithful to tradition and Jewish roots but open to the spirit of the times and peoples.

Merzer was the only Copper artist from the Polish group who survived the war and kept and brought the metalloplastic legacy to the city of Safed. He wrote in his album Safed and her people [1965]:

…” after the old Jewish homes in Europe together with their inhabitants were destroyed in the fire and in smoke fate led me to the Kaballah city of Safed: the city which crowns the thoughtful inspiring mountains of Galilee with their old synagogues, surrounded by caves and ancient tombs… Safed with her mystic stories and legends were Moshe Kordovero and the Ari Hakadosh studied Kaballah with their pupils, where the spirit of the Mishna came each night to Josef Karo to study the secret of the Torah with him, the city where Shlomo Alkabetz sang the great love song “Lecha Dodi”, to the queen Shabat. Safed the wonder-city where generation of Jews came from the wide world to seek meaning and salvation- Therefore, it is no wonder that this city, hundreds of years later, attracted painters and artists from the whole world.”