26/3 - 23/6 2003 Imperial Stables
of Prague Castle
Prague Castle Administration and the Jewish Museum in Prague will
be holding an exhibition of synagogue textiles in the Imperial Stables,
Prague Castle, from 26 March to 23 June 2003. The exhibition, featuring
textiles from the collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague, is entitled
"For Dignity and Adornment".
Since the early Middle Ages, Prague has been one of the most important
Jewish centres in Central Europe. The many synagogues based here were
the focus of religious life and their inventories were enriched by numerous
donations as expressions of piety. Some of these donations were quite
exceptional and many have been preserved to the present day. They include
synagogue textiles which form the basis of the holdings of the Jewish
Museum in Prague - one of the most important world-renowned institutions
dealing with research into the history and culture of the Jews.
Items from the synagogues of the reconstructed Prague ghetto formed
the basis of the textile collection, but the most important part of
the holdings was put together during the Second World War via shipments
from the Jewish communities of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
The entire collection is unique on a world scale, not only because of
the number, age and quality of the items, but primarily due to the fact
that they form a connected whole in terms of the development of textiles
from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries and that they originate
from a single, historically integrated, territory in Central Europe.
The exhibition "For Dignity and Adornment"is a unique presentation
of the most valuable and interesting textiles from the Museum's holdings.
It is exceptional mainly because such a large collection of textiles
has never previously been exhibited in this country. The textiles on
display include synagogue curtains, Torah mantles, valances and covers
for the reading-desks in synagogues, which, apart from their ritual
value, also have considerable value from the point of view of artistry
and the history of culture. Preparation of such a major exhibition project
has taken several years and has required a number of demanding and intricate
restoration measures, which have involved the participation of both
the Museum's restoration staff and a large group of external restorers
textiles on display offer a great deal to admire, especially the expensive,
rare fabrics (velvet, brocades, silk damask ), including imported pieces
from Italy, France and the Orient. The rarest fabric on display is Italian
velvet with a pomegranate apple motif from Florence, dating from the
end of the fifteenth century. Craft techniques of particular note include
those which feature work in silver and gold thread and freshwater pearls.
Also exhibited is the oldest preserved synagogue curtain from the Bohemian
Lands; this was made by the Prague master embroiderer Solomon Perlsticker
and, in 1592, donated to the Old New Synagogue. Also of immense historical
value is the collection of textiles from the period of Rudolf II, which
are decorated with intricate appliqués of Renaissance motifs.
In addition to the presentation of the most important techniques of
ornamentation and groups of materials, significant attention is also
paid to the wide range of iconographic motifs. The exhibition will acquaint
the visitor with various symbols of Judaism, such as the Star of David,
the seven-branched candelabrum and the Tablets of the Law, but also
with symbols representing the names of donors, such as the lion, deer,
wolf and eagle.
The numerous influences from the surrounding Bohemian and Moravian countryside
which were absorbed by Jewish craftsmen and artists when making and
decorating objects are reflected in a relatively large section which
features textiles decorated with familiar folk motifs such as hearts,
tulips and stylized applies. In addition, numerous examples document
he quality of Jewish calligraphy and the diversity of the ornamentation
employed. The motifs, symbols and compositions that appear on synagogue
textiles also occur not only on other groups of Judaica but also on
tombstones in Jewish cemeteries. This is evidence of their deep significance
and of the fact that, having accompanied the Jewish people for centuries,
they are an integral part of their culture from the very beginning to
This unique presentation of historic Jewish textiles, however, has a
further subtext: it is a testimony to the tragedy of our fellow citizens
who paid with their lives for the anti-Jewish hatred of the Nazis during
the Second World War. The extraordinary holdings of the Jewish Museum
in Prague would never have emerged if it had not been for this fateful
persecution. The vast majority of Bohemian and Moravian Jews perished,
but the ritual objects left behind by the almost 80,000 victims of racial
hatred were preserved.
Paradoxically, therefore, the Jewish Museum in Prague now has a collection
of extraordinary size and importance on which it can draw when documenting
the character of Czech Jewish culture, which is essentially connected
with Bohemian and Moravian history
A simple guide in Czech and English has been published for visitors.
In addition, there is an interactive CD-ROM, entitled "Synagogue
Textiles", which includes extensive information on the set of exhibited
textiles in several languages (Czech, German, English, French and Italian).
An English-language catalogue of the textile collection of the Jewish
Museum in Prague ("Synagogue Textiles") has been published
for experts; this contains scholarly essays and detailed information
on a thousand textiles. All the above publications are accompanied by
a wealth of full-colour illustrations.