Exhibit Includes Recently Recovered Manuscripts Relating to Mexican Inquisition Victim Luis de Carvajal to be on Public Display for the First Time
The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World, On View October 28, 2016 – February 26, 2017
This fall, a path-breaking exhibition at the New-York Historical Society (170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024. Phone (212) 873-3400. TTY (212) 873-7489) will examine the story of newcomers to the New World, both Jewish and of Jewish ancestry, who made their way to colonial America and engaged fully in the cultural, social, and political life of the young nation. On view now through to February 26, 2017, The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World will feature more than 170 objects, including rare early portraits, drawings, maps, books, documents, and ritual objects primarily drawn from the Princeton University Jewish American Collection, gift of Mr. Leonard L. Milberg, Class of 1953; and Mr. Leonard L. Milberg’s personal collection.
In addition to objects from the New-York Historical Society, the exhibition will showcase loans from museums nationwide and abroad. Highlights include two landscape paintings by Sephardic Jew Camille Pissarro, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, depicting St. Thomas—the Caribbean island where the artist was born in 1830—and an important group of six portraits depicting members of the Levy-Franks family, prominent figures in New York City’s 18th-century Jewish community, from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Establishing vibrant communities in American port cities including New York, Philadelphia, Newport, Savannah, and Charleston, early Jewish settlers adopted American ideals while remaining a distinctive and socially cohesive group, giving birth to a new Jewish American tradition with the stamp of both cultures. This groundbreaking exhibition reveals the extraordinary contributions of 18th- and 19th-century Jewish artists, writers, activists, and others to the development of American culture and politics.
“The First Jewish Americans explores the paths taken by Jews who for centuries fled persecution in Europe—beginning with the little-known but remarkable stories of their experience in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Brazil during the colonial period, and following their journey toward finding freedom and tolerance in the early American Republic,” said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “We are grateful for the extraordinary collections of Leonard L. Milberg and the partnership of the Princeton University Library, which will allow us to convey to the New York public the fundamental importance of the Jewish people to early American history. We are deeply grateful to Mr. Milberg for his tenacity and hard work in securing the loan of recently recovered Jewish writings from Spanish Colonial Mexico, the earliest extant Jewish manuscripts from that time period.”
The First Jewish Americans will showcase, for the first time on public display, the manuscripts relating to Mexican Inquisition victim Luis de Carvajal—considered the earliest extant Jewish books in the New World. These exceptional documents and other materials in the exhibition underscore the long reach of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, which followed settlers of Jewish ancestry into the New World, forcing confessions and burning suspected “Judaizers” at the stake in horrific autos-de-fé.
(The New-York Historical Society is grateful to the Government of Mexico, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, for the loan of Luis de Carvajal‘s manuscripts.)
The First Jewish Americans will explore the origins of the Jewish diaspora and paths to the New World, Jewish life in American port cities, and the birth of American Judaism in the 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as profile prominent Jewish Americans who made an impact on early American life.
European Jews fleeing persecution and seeking ports of refuge were propelled westward to the distant shores of New World colonies, which offered hope for a new beginning until the infamous Holy Inquisition followed them across the ocean. The exhibition powerfully illustrates this experience through the 1595 autobiography of Luis de Carvajal, a “converso” Jew in Mexico and the nephew of a prominent governor, who was tried by the Inquisition and denounced more than 120 other secretly practicing Jews before he was burned at the stake in 1596.
The recently rediscovered documents, which had gone missing from the National Archives of Mexico more than 75 years ago, will be on view at New-York Historical by special arrangement with the Mexican government before returning to Mexico. Continue reading