publisher colophon

168. Seal of Jacob Mendel

Dimensions: approximately 15 × 13 mm. Impression.

Location: destroyed. Photograph in National Archives of Hungary, Budapest, 1502, D1, No. 97562.

Bibliography: Ivanyi, 1948; Monumenta Hungariae Judaica 5, 1959, No. 222.

The earliest document relating to the Mendel seals is dated April 12, 1484 (No. 165 is attached to this document), and comes from the town of Kassa (Kosice, now in Czechoslovakia). Though an exact description is not available, it is stated that the Latin letters Mendl Ivd are at the top of the seal and that the lower part shows a head with a high cap in right profile and a rather luxurious untrimmed beard. In this document “Mendl Ivd” attested that the magistrate and city of Kassa had repaid the 450 Hungarian gulden owed him,* and acknowledged the payment by fixing his seal in green wax. The seal style is post-medieval. The exact size is not known, though the seal was probably small, surely less than 20 mm. in diameter.

There is a considerable body of information on the next two seals (Nos. 166 and 167), which are both attached to the same document, dated December 12, 1496, and issued in Ofen, the old name for Buda. On paper, and measuring 45 × 29.8 cm., it is an agreement between Tamás, Count of Szentgyörgy and Bazin (Count Thomas of St. George and Boesing, now Pezinok), and the Jewish prefect Jacob Mendel. The count promises to pay his debt in three installments over the next three years, the money to be paid in Pressburg to the Jew Prend of Paszno. Both the count and the prefect ratified the agreement, along with four witnesses, one of whom was the Jew Prentl; the others were three Christians. Their six seals are appended. The first, in red wax, belongs to the count. The others are in green wax. Three of these can be identified by the legends as belonging to the Christian witnesses. The second and sixth in order from left are Jewish seals.

The second person sealing the document after Count Tamás had a portrait seal somewhat similar to the seal attached to the Kassa document of 1484 (No. 165). The earlier portrait shows the head in right profile; the later shows the head in left profile. The 1484 seal displays a rather wild growth of beard; the head on the 1496 seal (No. 166) is better groomed and the features are not the same. Thus we are looking at two different portrait seals, though they might possibly have belonged to the same man. The earliest writer on the subject, Bernát Mandl, felt that the two portraits represented the same man. After listing the similarities of the seals attached to both documents, Mandl wrote: “from a receipt originating in 1484 under the portrait seal, we can safely surmise that Jacob Mendel was on this seal” (1904, p. 288). It should be noted, however, that Jacob Mendel did not become prefect until 1493, according to most records, and, since he continued in that post until 1522, as noted earlier, he would have been very young to have had such a seal and to hold such power as early as 1484, particularly when his father was still functioning as the appointed prefect.

A later report by Ernö Munkácsi (1941) includes an enlarged sketch of the 1484 seal. Munkácsi states that Bernát Mandl had not seen the 1484 seal, and had been misled by information received from Kassa as to the similarity of the portraits shown on the two seals. Munkácsi obtained from Kassa the sketch reproduced as No. 165 (reduced here to its possible size), which apparently is a good likeness of the seal itself.* It can immediately be seen that the Latin letters Mendl Ivd do not appear as part of the seal but must have been printed above it. Also, Mandi’s report indicated a high cap on the head, which is not apparent here; this seal looks more like a small portrait carved on a stone set into a ring. Munkácsi concluded that both the 1484 and 1496 seals “are from the Mendel family, from two different individuals” (p. 83). This writer agrees, and, judging by the notes and by the reference to Mendl Ivd in the earlier document and the reference to Jacob Mendel in the later document, we are dealing with the seals of father and son.

Installment payment agreement from Ofen (Budapest), December 12, 1496, sealed by Jacob Mendel (2d from left and far right). Half size. National Archives of Hungary, Budapest.

Enlarged drawing of No. 167.

As to the 1496 document, there can be no question that the seal belongs to Jacob Mendel. This Jewish prefect was a party to the agreement; his seal follows that of Count Tamás. The only other Jew involved was Prentl of Paszno, who was a witness and, as a relatively ordinary and undistinguished Jew, would not have had a seal, so that the other Jewish seal attached to this document is somewhat mysterious (No. 167). Above, in what seems to be a rectangular box, are the Hebrew letters yod and mem. Below, on a shield, is a lion facing left, with his right front leg raised high. This heraldic device is similar to that shown on the coat of arms of the kingdom of Bohemia and is said to be the device depicted on the seal of János Vitéz, a contemporary Hungarian. A somewhat enlarged drawing of this seal is shown so the detail can better be seen.

The obvious conclusion is that the Hebrew letters stand for Jacob Mendel, but why should he, presuming that he had two different seals, attach both to the same document? This writer has reviewed hundreds of medieval documents and has never seen double sealing with different seals by one individual on the same document.* A more recent writer on the subject, Philipp Grünwald, feels that both seals belong to Jacob Mendel, who used the portrait seal in connection with matters involving non-Jews and the lion seal with Hebrew initials when dealing with Jews: in this case, he says, the seal with Hebrew letters was impressed to represent Prentl, the Jewish witness (1963, p. 19). Bernát Mandl has another explanation. The father of Jacob Mendel had the name Judeus or Judah; the first initial could stand for the name Judah as well as Jacob. Added to the device of the lion, representing the lion of Judah, we have a case of armes parlantes. By a curious circular reasoning, Mandl believes that the question of whether Jacob’s father was named Judah is thus solved.

One may ask why Jacob Mendel would use his own seal on the 1496 document and (assuming the second seal did indeed belong to his father) append that one as well. This throws open again the question of the identity of the person shown on the 1484 portrait seal. One can sympathize with the Draconian resolution of the matter by the editors of Monumenta Hungariae Judaica, vol. 1, who assigned the lion seal to Jacob Mendel and the portrait seal to the Jewish witness Prentl!

In 1948, Béla Ivanyi, a Hungarian historian, published a list of medieval documents, including one from Ofen dated July 18, 1502. Written in Latin, it is a certification from Jacob Mendel that John of Paszto had repaid a debt. Stamped on the document is a small seal of the signet type impressed on a raised piece of paper. Oval in shape, it shows a bearded head with a hat to the left. Though the original document was destroyed during World War II, a reduced photograph remains in the National Archives of Hungary and is illustrated here. The portrait seal in this case is different from the previous seal assigned to Jacob Mendel, for it represents an older man.

Quittance from Ofin (Budapest), July 18, 1502, sealed by Jacob Mendel (reduced in size). National Archives of Hungary, Budapest.

The explanations offered to explain the ownership of these portrait seals have an air of unreality. There is no evidence that Jacob Mendel’s seal (or that of his father) added legal weight to the documents on which it was affixed, and it may well be that the only seal he possessed which, in a vague sense, could be called traditional was that showing the Hebrew initials of his name, the others being semi-precious or precious stones set in rings and inscribed as mere personal ornaments. There is not even reason to believe that these “portraits” were true representations of Mendel and his son, Jacob Mendel. For example, the portrait seals of the son closely resemble a much later commemorative medal showing Hieronymus of Prague, the theologian and close friend of Jan Hus, illustrated here. At every period certain stereotypes of what wise men should look like are developed, and the “portraits” of Jacob Mendel and Hieronymus of Prague, though several hundred years apart, conform to the same stereotype. The presumed portrait seals of Angelo Finzi of Mantua and Isaac Vitale of Pisa, both from northern Italy, seals almost contemporaneous with these seals, are similar cases in point (see Nos. 170, 173). These signet rings, produced for the rich burghers of the urban centers, were post-medieval in size and device, and often lacked legends. They no longer served any legal function. Seals still had some meaning in this period when affixed to public papers by important secular princes or church leaders, in that they added solemnity to their publication. But for all its real value, Jacob Mendel might well have sealed with a different inscribed cameo every few years to give himself greater airs.

Commemorative medal of Hieronymus of Prague.


*Ernö Munkácsi (1941) refers to the sum as “452 forint.” The forint is a Hungarian form of the florin equal in value to the gulden. The discrepancy in the amount of the payment in the two sources cannot be explained by this writer; it might be due to a tax paid on such transactions.

*The writer has written twice to the Kassa (Kosice) archives to clarify the matter, without answer.

*Jacob of London stamped a document twice, but with the same seal (illustrated in No. 1 of this catalogue). This occasionally occurs with other seal-holders as well, presumably because the imprint of the first seal was indistinct.

*Ernö Munkácsi (1941) refers to the sum as “452 forint.” The forint is a Hungarian form of the florin equal in value to the gulden. The discrepancy in the amount of the payment in the two sources cannot be explained by this writer; it might be due to a tax paid on such transactions.

*The writer has written twice to the Kassa (Kosice) archives to clarify the matter, without answer.

*Jacob of London stamped a document twice, but with the same seal (illustrated in No. 1 of this catalogue). This occasionally occurs with other seal-holders as well, presumably because the imprint of the first seal was indistinct.

Previous Chapter

167. Seal of Jacob Mendel

Next Chapter

ITALY

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
328-332
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.