Synagogue Silver from Bohemia and Moravia

The exhibition is in the upper-floor prayer hall of the Spanish Synagogue

The Silver Collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague

The silver collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague comprises over 6,000 objects – the work of thirteen generations of goldsmiths and silversmiths from Central Europe.

The current form of the collection reflects the influence of various historical events that left their mark on the amount and types of items in the collection. In the past, silver objects were appreciated not only for their artistic value, but primarily for the amount of precious metal that could be used for other purposes when required. This is why only a fraction of the early pieces have survived.

For centuries Jewish participation in the trades and crafts was restricted, which is why a large portion of Jewish silver objects are from the workshops of Christian manufacturers who were commissioned by the Jewish community and Jewish individuals. The first extant products of Jewish goldsmiths and silversmiths date from around the mid-18th century, although much earlier works of this kind are documented in archival sources.

Some of the artefacts reflect the commercial and personal contacts of the then owners and donors. Apart from the products of local workshops, which form the bulk of the Museum’s collection, there are also pieces that were fashioned in Germany, Austria, Silesia and other countries. All of these objects were used in synagogues, Jewish homes and Jewish associations in Bohemia and Moravia before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Where the objects came from

The majority of objects of Bohemian and Moravian origin were produced in the two largest cities, Prague and Brno; a smaller amount were made in the workshops of other Moravian cities, namely Mikulov, Znojmo, Jihlava and Olomouc. Objects acquired from other countries include outstanding work by goldsmiths and silversmiths from Augsburg, as well as certain products from Nuremburg and Breslau and a relatively large number of more recent pieces from Vienna.

Extant material suggests that some of the local goldsmith and silversmith masters received a relatively large amount of orders from Jewish communities. Aside from genuinely first-rate manufacturers, such as Jan Kogler, Filip Oberholzer and Jan Jiri Brullus Jr from Prague, who received only a few commissions from Jews, there was a group of producers who worked almost exclusively for Jewish clients. These include Kristof Wild in the earlier period and Franz Kaltenmacher of Brno and the Prague masters Tomas Hoepfel and Karel Skremenec in the early 19th century.

It is difficult to specify more accurately the proportion of work by individual producers because, from 1810 onwards, objects made of precious metal that were used for religious purposes had to be handed over to the authorities to pay off part of the national debt. Even though it was possible to buy these pieces back at overvalued amounts, most of them were destroyed in this way. The scale of the loss is reflected by the large amount of later works by the above-mentioned Karel Skremenec who, due to his experience, became one of the main suppliers of replicas of items that had been destroyed. The collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague includes over fifty Torah shields from Skremenec's workshop from the years 1814-1820 alone. Other makers of replica items included Tomas Hoepfel and the Brno silversmith Franz Kaltenmacher.

Silver objects from Vienna started to appear in greater numbers in the Bohemian lands around the mid-19th century, completely dominating the market by the end of the century. At this point, however, they were being mass produced.

What the objects were used for

The types of objects in the collection cover all aspects of the religious, social and personal lives of Jewish community members.

The collection contains groups of synagogue and association alms boxes, burial society objects (dinner sets, beakers, combs and implements for ritually cleansing the deceased, etc.), lavers and basins for ritual hand washing, ritual spice boxes, Kiddush cups, Hanukkah lamps, trays for charitable gifts, and Sabbath candlesticks, among many other things. The largest number of objects are Torah ornaments – Torah shields, pointers, finials and crowns, which have been given the largest space in the exhibition.

When the objects were made

Burial society beakers and ceremonial cups from around 1600 are the oldest items in the collection. There are relatively few objects from the 17th century. Items from the mid-18th century are greater in number.

Nesmírný nárůst převážně synagogálního stříbra, štítů, nástavců a ukazovátek je možno pozorovat v první třetině 19. století, kdy se židovské obce snažily nahradit ztráty způsobené v období napoleonských válek.

V souvislosti se změnou životního stylu na konci 19. století klesá množství nově pořízených stříbrných předmětů. Nejmladší předměty ve sbírce Židovského muzea v Praze pocházejí z období těsně před vypuknutím druhé světové války.

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