Black Velvet: Jewish Brokerage as seen through the Eyes of a Stolen textile Roll: Recanati, Italy, 1607
Tom Cohen, Professor of History and Humanities, came to York in 1969. In 1984, the Orwellian year, he first worked on Renaissance Roman criminal trials. He has never stopped; they are too intriguing and too much fun. He uses trials for the political and cultural anthropology of Rome and its hinterland. But he also dredges them for stories that beg to be told. As here, with "Black Velvet," a tale of skulduggery in a little market city near Ancona. The Jews were banned from living there, in theory. But live there they did, go-betweens and brokers as almost always, and in Cohen’s story of stolen cloth, as easily can happen, when things go askew, swift, wrong blame comes tumbling on their heads. Cohen is not a historian of Italy's Jews per se, but in the thick of things Jews keep stumbling onto the historical stage. As he wrote some years ago, in a story of Purim mischief (the Jews played cops and pretended to arrest a hapless Christian, who fell for it), they were Rome's "intimate outsiders," and their stories are always deliciously revealing.
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