Art collector David Breuer-Weil knew he had found an important piece of history when he came across a decorated oil lamp at a Dutch art fair. But, upon closer inspection, he found it was even more special than he thought.
The artefact was on sale at the last week of the prestigious TEFAF show in Maastricht, where it was described only as a “large Judean terracotta oil lamp”. But Mr Breuer-Weil suspected it had actually come from inside the winter palace in Jericho of King Herod the Great, who reigned over Judea from 37-4BCE.
“I was walking around TEFAF when I saw this piece — the design is very similar to pieces that were discovered in the Temple area in Jerusalem. I immediately got goose-bumps.
“I bought it straight away, even before doing any research, because if you snooze, you lose at these things. But when I went away and did some research, I realised it most likely actually came from Herod’s palace.”
On further investigation, Mr Breuer-Weil found that an almost identical version of his purchase had been discovered years ago in the excavations of King Herod’s palace. The only other example of a similar piece is owned by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
“I’ve been collecting pieces from the Second Temple period for 20 years and have always been looking for something like this,” Mr Breuer-Weil said. “When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. When you compare the details with the other version, you can see that they probably came from the same mould.”
Both lamps have 17 spouts indicating it was made for a large room in a major public building.
The art collector, who is also an artist, said he was planning to offer the lamp on extended loan to the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam.
“This is a very important piece of Jewish cultural heritage — the last flowering of indigenous Jewish art in that period. One can only say it is priceless,” he said.