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Exhibitions in the Robert Guttmann Gallery

Robert Guttmann Gallery
Symbols of Emancipation. Nineteenth-Century Synagogues in the Czech Lands

Some 360 synagogues were built in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia between 1800 and 1918. The Jewish Museum in Prague has now prepared an exhibition that provides the first ever detailed look at the dramatic history of these almost unknown architectural sites.

21 March – 4 August 2013, Robert Guttmann Gallery

Interior of the Vinohrady Synagogue in Prague, Jindřich Eckert, ca. 1900, JMP.

The nineteenth century brought considerable changes in the status of the Jewish population in the Czech lands. The first easing of restrictions was made possible by Josef II’s reforms of 1781–88 but the turning point did not come until the revolution of 1848–49. Following the abolition of compulsory ghettoes and of the Familiant Law (which had limited the number of Jewish families living in particular areas of the Habsburg Monarchy), the December Constitution of 1867 granted full civic and political equality to Jews throughout Austria-Hungary.

As a result of all this social change, the Jewish community experienced its largest ever economic, cultural and population boom, and this led to the widespread construction of new synagogues. The first large synagogues began to appear in many communities and towns in the Czech lands as early as the 1850s. These were mainly built in a Neo-Romanesque style with the addition of fashionable oriental features. Building activity reached a peak in the following decade when the largest number of new synagogues were built for the needs of the rapidly expanding Jewish communities. In the last third of the nineteenth century and at the start of the twentieth, opulent Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance synagogues began to appear in prominent sites on the new avenues of large towns and industrial centres. These included the New Temple in Prague (now the Spanish Synagogue) and the New Synagogue in Teplice, which at the time was the largest domed temple in Bohemia.

Only ninety of the 360 synagogues that were built in the Czech lands in the nineteenth century still stand. The vast majority were burned down during the Night of Broken Glass in November 1938, after the Nazi occupation in March 1939, or after the deportation of the local Jewish population to the concentration and death camps in 1942. The last battles of the Second World War also took their toll. After 1945 many of the buildings were empty and dilapidated or were used for various other purposes. Work did not begin on the renovation of some of the synagogues until the 1990s.

A loose continuation of the successful exhibition “Baroque Synagogues in the Czech Lands” (2011), this show features more than two dozen synagogues with special focus on their layout, internal design and ornamentation. Information is also provided about the architects and builders of these temples. By looking at the stories behind individual buildings, the exhibition also highlights the development of Jewish communities in the Emancipation period – when the Jewish population became an important part of the economic, cultural and social life of the Czech lands – and during the period of Nazi persecution which led to the destruction of most of them. Special attention is also devoted to the renovations of some of the preserved synagogues which are currently taking place in the Czech Republic.

The exhibition is curated by Arno Pařík.

Symbols of Emancipation. Nineteenth-Century Synagogues in the Czech Lands

21 March 2013 – 4 August 2013

Jewish Museum in Prague – Robert Guttmann Gallery
U Staré školy 3, Prague 1
Open daily except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.




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