City of Prague Museum, Na Poříčí 52, 180 00 Prague 8
May 17 – August 2, 2006. Daily except Mondays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The exhibition Images of the Prague Ghetto brings together 200 unique images, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, which give a vivid picture of the main monuments of Prague’s Jewish Town. The exhibition comprises three main sections. The first part features portraits of rabbis and families in the ghetto, but the focus of attention is on the most important sites of the ghetto, particularly the Old-New Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Most of the depictions of the Jewish Town by Prague painters date from the period of its reconstruction, which also led to the founding of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
The Enlightenment and the reforms of Joseph II had a major impact on life in the Prague ghetto. The need to represent a society undergoing a process of emancipation led to the creation of a complete portrait gallery of the spiritual representatives of the Prague Jewish community, as well as of members of patrician and entrepreneurial families in the Jewish Town. The best Prague portraitists, such as Antonín Bayer and Antonín Machek, were already receiving commissions from the ghetto by the beginning of the 19th century. Soon later, portraits were being made by the first Jewish graduates of the Prague Academy, such as Simon Jacob Arkeles, Adolf Aron Pulzer and Josef Bindeles. Ignatz Josef Porges became one of the most acclaimed Jewish portraitists in 19th century Prague. Many graphic portraits in the Prague ghetto were published by Markus Schmelkes and Wolf Pascheles.
The Old-New Synagogue, the oldest and most important site in the Jewish Town, became one of the first motifs of the Prague ghetto at the beginning of the 19th century. It was depicted in the 1830s by the Prague vista painters Karel Würbs, Vilém Kandler and Vincenc Morstadt, whose engravings were used as illustrations for the first guidebooks for Prague. The Old-New Synagogue interior was drawn in 1842 by the painter Josef V. Hellich and depicted in a large, carefully executed watercolour in 1843 by a young Josef Mánes. Mánes’s watercolour, which is the most important image of the Old-New Synagogue, became a model for a large lithograph by Karel Nord.
From the end of the 18th century onwards, the Old Jewish Cemetery became a popular subject for several generations of Prague landscape painters, especially the pupils of the Mánes and Haushofer landscape schools at the Prague Academy. For these artists, the cemetery constituted a rich source of subject matter that matched their interest in historic monuments and unusual natural scenery. The first artist to be interested in Old Jewish Cemetery motifs was Antonín Mánes. As head of the landscape department of the Prague Academy, Mánes also encouraged his pupils Josef Vojtěch Hellich, Eduard Herold and Amálie Mánesová to focus on subject matter from the Old Jewish Cemetery
The most distinctive painters of the Old Jewish Cemetery, however, were Haushofer’s pupils, Bedřich Havránek and Matyáš Wehli, in whose work we can follow the development of cemetery motifs for several decades. Both artists made their most important paintings of the Old Jewish Cemetery in the 1850s and 60s. Their works depict picturesque clusters of tombstones near Pinkas Synagogue with views of Prague Castle in various shades of light. They represent the culmination of attempts by romantic painters to bring together the various cemetery views into a single image, dominated by the dramatic atmosphere of the natural scenery. The Old Jewish Cemetery was also depicted in 1852 by Jaroslav Čermák, in 1877 by Vojtěch Hynais and at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by Jindřich Bubeníček, Alois Wierer and Jiří Jilovsky. Old Jewish Cemetery views also became a popular a popular motif for Art Nouveau graphic artists.
While the oldest and most important sites of the Jewish Town – the Old-New Synagogue and Old Jewish Cemetery – attracted the interest of Prague painters from the beginning of the 19th century, its cramped lanes and shabby houses, for a long time, did not have such appeal. The decision to reconstruct the Jewish Town and, in particular, the start of demolition activities around 1896, however, produced a wave of broader interest from the general public and artists in this hitherto neglected quarter. The reconstruction of Josefov was in full swing between 1897 and 1907, from which period date most of the artworks that aimed to document the form of the ghetto’s vanishing streets and corners. Among the most important painters from this period was the landscape artist and illustrator Václav Jansa, who faithfully depicted the ghetto streets in a series of lively watercolours. The first painters of the Jewish Town also included Luděk Marold, Václav Hradecký, Jindřich Jakesch and Josef Douba. Antonín Slavíček painted his most famous views of the Jewish and Old towns at the beginning of the new century, along with several of his pupils. Other artists working here at this time were Jan Minařík, Stanislav Feikl, Adolf Körber and Alois Wierer. Traditional motifs of the Jewish Town were also depicted in many works by the naive painter Adolf Kohn into the 1920s and 30s. It is due to these manifold works by several generations of Prague painters and graphic artists that the demolished Jewish Town is now, paradoxically, among the best documented historic parts of Prague.
The exhibition is being held in association with the Prague 1 Borough (Městská část Praha 1)