- Digital Programs
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life was established in 2010 at The Bancroft Library after the transfer of the Judah L. Magnes Museum to the University of California, Berkeley. Its remarkably diverse archive, library and museum holdings include art, objects, texts, music, and historical documents about the Jews in the Global Diaspora and the American West. As one of the preeminent Jewish collections in the world, it provides highly innovative and accessible resources to both scholars and visitors.
The former Judah L. Magnes Museum, one of the first Jewish museums in the United States, was founded in Berkeley in 1962 by Seymour Fromer and his wife, Rebecca Camhi Fromer. Reflecting the guiding concerns of American Jewry after the Holocaust, the Magnes focused on preserving the legacy of vanishing communities around the world. Its founding paralleled the establishment of Jewish studies as an academic field, and the museum continued to involve leading scholars, including UC Berkeley faculty and students, in the development and interpretation of its holdings. Responding to the ethos of pluralism of the 1960's, the Magnes expanded the canon of Jewish cultural history, integrating visual, musical and material cultures with traditional text-focused approaches.
The Magnes' first significant acquisition, in 1967, was the Siegfried S. Strauss Collection, which included hundreds of Jewish ritual objects, documents, rare books and manuscripts from Europe. Subsequently, its unique perspective led to collecting beyond the boundaries of Western societies, and embraced the Jewish cultures of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. At the same time, the Magnes pioneered the study and documentation of regional Jewish history in the American West.
Over the years, through purchases and generous gifts, the Magnes has continued to expand the scope of its collection including modern and contemporary art, music, and rare books and manuscripts in Hebrew and other Jewish languages.
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life is today one of the world's preeminent Jewish collections in a university setting. A unique "library of objects" affiliated with The Bancroft Library, the primary special collections library at the University of California, Berkeley, the Magnes is distinctively positioned to make Jewish art and material culture available to researchers through an innovative approach to collection access and display. The variety of its holdings and the design of its facilities enhance the university's academic offerings, enabling an unprecedented view of Jewish and host cultures in the global Diaspora.
The articulation of the holdings in archives, library and museum collections facilitates access to scholars by integrating different descriptive standards, thus offering a wide-angled perspective on history and culture. The division of the museum collection in the complementary areas of Jewish Art and Jewish Life moves away from established museological and cultural conventions.
Traditionally, Jewish museums have attempted to enhance the cultural significance of Jewish material culture and everyday life by defining their product as "art," while addressing the evolving notions of "Jewish Art" through issues of cultural identity rather than historical context. Their collections were known primarily through their "displayable" holdings, thus privileging metalwork, ceramics, and modern art less sensitive to light exposure.
Materials in The Magnes Collection are accessible for study, research, and teaching in a variety of ways:
- Visitors may experience the full scope of the holdings through visible collection storage
- Collections housed in The Magnes' Allston Way facility are available for on-site research in the Florence Helzel Collection Study (by appointment)
- Materials housed in The Bancroft Library are available for research in the Bancroft reading room.
- Online access to collection catalog records and digital images is available through an integrated archives, library, museum database
Online visitors can use this website to learn about each area of the collection, and to access detailed information about locations and accessibility for research, publication and loans.
The archival holdings have been a central feature of the collecting interests of the Magnes since its inception. The intention was then, and remains today, to provide a wide-ranging approach ...
The library holdings of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life include periodicals, reference and original materials about Jewish history in the American West, rare books from the Global ...
The Museum holdings of The Magnes encompass two main areas: Jewish Art and Jewish Life. The Jewish Art collection includes painting and sculpture, photography, works on paper and artist books, ...