Synagogue Art

Vivian B. Mann

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Synagogue Art

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The first synagogues were established in the Diaspora, for example, at Delos, Greece, dated to the 1st century bce. In the Land of Israel synagogues were built at Masada, Herodion, and other sites even before the destruction of the Temple. Some of these ancient houses of worship are known to have housed desks for reading the Torah, but centuries elapsed before a solution was found for the storage of Torah scrolls within the synagogue proper. The first incorporation of an ark or niche for the scrolls into the architectural fabric of the synagogue dates to the 3rd century and is found at the synagogue in Dura-Europos, Syria. Once permanent storage was established, the problem faced by builders of synagogues was the spatial relationship between the reader’s desk and the Torah ark. The different solutions to this problem in Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi synagogues affected the forms of ceremonial art created for the synagogue. An important facet of Jewish ceremonial art made to decorate the synagogue and the Torah scroll is its gradual development. Mantles, textile bags (tikim), and arks for protecting the scroll were known in Antiquity, as were the ark curtain and ornamental crowns, but the tik in the sense of a hard, cylindrical case for the Torah is first mentioned in a document dated 1059 from the Cairo Geniza. Moses Maimonides (d. 1204) wrote of silver finials as scroll ornaments; the Torah shield and the pointer appear later, as do other forms decorating the synagogue building. Catalogues on synagogue art and architecture emerged only in the first half of the 18th century in accounts of court and private collections. The first published for a Jewish collector accompanied Isaac Strauss’s exhibition of his Judaica at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was accompanied by a catalogue written by George Stenne. This was an isolated publication. Only in the last years of the century did a continuous series of scholarly works on synagogue architecture and Judaica appear with Mathias Bersohn’s three volumes on Polish synagogues (1895–1903) and the first volume of the Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft zur Erforschung jüdischen Kunstdenkmäler (1900), the journal sponsored by the Gesellschaft zur Erforschung jüdischen Kunstdenkmäler of Frankfurt that was organized by Heinrich Frauberger of the Düsseldorfer Kunstgewerbenmuseum. Scholarly interest in architecture and ceremonial art for Jewish communities increased dramatically after World War II. Since illustrations are crucial for understanding both architecture and artworks, the quality and number of plates in each volume is noted in the annotations.

Article.  6655 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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