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Hand painted vase with a scene of Portia and Shylock in the courtroom

Object | Accession Number: 2016.184.15

Porcelain vase from the late 19th or early 20th century with an image of the courtroom scene from Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice. The vase was manufactured by the Porzellanfabrik Victoria Schmidt & Co (now part of Thun Karlovarský Porcelán) in Carlsbad, Austria-Hungary (now, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic), and features a reproduction of an illustration by the English artist, Walter Paget. The image was commonly used on tableware and decorative ceramics. In the scene, Shylock has a long beard and is wearing a skullcap, both stereotypical features attributed to Jewish men. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, making it unlikely that Shakespeare ever met a Jewish person, and he likely based Shylock on longstanding antisemitic stereotypes. In the play, Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who demands a pound of flesh as recompense from a merchant who failed to repay a loan. Although some scenes make him a sympathetic character, and show how society and his Christian enemies cruelly mistreat him, in the end, he is punished and forced to convert to Christianity. The play was extremely popular in Nazi Germany, with fifty productions between 1933 and 1939. The Ministry of Propaganda created edited versions of the play that removed scenes and lines that evoked sympathy for Shylock or Jews. The Nazis used Shylock to promote Jewish inferiority by making him emblematic of the Jewish race’s perceived wickedness. These versions ignored the ambiguity Shylock was originally infused with, and portrayed him as an avaricious and vengeful character that was grotesque and inhuman. Despite the stereotypical and anti-Jewish elements, the play remains popular and continues to spark debates over whether it should be considered antisemitic. This vase is one of more than 900 items in the Katz Ehrenthal Collection of antisemitic artifacts and visual materials.

creation:  approximately 1891-1918
manufacture: Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic)
Decorative Arts
Object Type
Vases (lcsh)
Credit Line
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of the Katz Family
Record last modified: 2023-01-31 14:16:34
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