Jewish Museum in Prague


New Headquarters of the Jewish Museum

In February the Jewish Museum relocated to two buildings next door to the Spanish Synagogue in the U Staré školy (Old Shul) Street which were previously owned by the Ritual Reform Society. This move is of great importance when seen in the overall context of the Museum’s history. Having moved several times since its establishment in 1906 this is its fifth headquarters and the first not to be of a temporary nature. This is the first time that full consideration has been taken in advance of all the prerequisites for its operations and activities both with regard to visitor services and the maintenance and administration of its collections. For visitors there is a new vegetarian restaurant Altschul, an information centre and the Robert Guttmann Gallery. The professional care of the Museum’s collections is provided for by fully equipped depositories and restoration workshops for textiles, metal and paper. For the first time in its history the Museum has acquired a building that is completely self-contained, ideally designed to meet its specific operational requirements and equipped with the latest in technology. The launch of all the operations in the new building will mark a watershed in the Museum’s history and a basis for its future success.

From the past…
   In February 2001 the Jewish Museum in Prague relocated to two newly refurbished buildings next door to the Spanish Synagogue on the site of the former Old Shul (the oldest synagogue of the Jewish Town). The history of these premises stretches far back into the past.
   In 1834 the Ritual Reform Society in Prague acquired the use of the Old Shul and the two adjoining buildings which came into the synagogue’s hands after 1726. The Old Shul was modernized in 1836 and regular services were introduced on 19 April 1837. As there was insufficient room for its rapidly growing congregation, however, a decision was taken in 1866 to build a new synagogue. The Old Shul was pulled down the following year and replaced by a new house of worship (with 500 seats for men and 300 for women). This was dedicated on 26 May 1868 and became known as the Spanish Synagogue.
   In 1892 the congregation arranged to buy three small adjoining buildings on the south-facing side of the synagogue. These were pulled down and a new congregation building was erected on the same site. The ground floor of this building housed a caretaker’s room, a congregation room and archive and a winter prayer hall. It was probably around this time that the Reform Society bought a house on the north-facing side of the synagogue. This house was demolished during the clearance of the Prague ghetto at the beginning of the 20th century; it was replaced in 1925 by a larger building whose design conformed to a Moorish style in line with the requirements of the heritage department. The ground floor housed a winter prayer hall and conference hall; the rest of the building was let out mainly to community members. The building on the north-facing side of the synagogue remained intact until 1935 when it was demolished and replaced—despite opposition from the heritage department—by a modern Functionalist building (designed by Karel Pecánek and František Zelenka) which included a new entrance hall, gallery staircase and winter prayer hall on the upper level.
   In the south wing there were originally shops and rented rooms. In 1940, during the German occupation, the building was converted by František Zelenka and Alois Richter into a Jewish out-patients clinic, which in the following years became the only health centre for Jews in Prague.
   After the war a youth hostel and, later, a Jewish children’s centre were established in the buildings around the Spanish Synagogue. In the 1950s the buildings came under the administration of the nearby Na Bulovce Hospital and in the 1970s geriatric wards were opened here for the nearby St. Francis Hospital (in use until the mid-1990s). In 1994 the two hospital buildings along with the Spanish Synagogue were returned to the Prague Jewish Community which later handed them over to the Jewish Museum in Prague. In 1997-98 the Museum carried out a major reconstruction of the Spanish Synagogue and refurbished the adjacent buildings in 1999-2000.

From the present…
   The reconstruction of the two buildings at U Staré školy (land parcel no.s 141 and 153) for the purposes of the Museum’s new office building was carried out for the most part in 1999-2000. The reconstruction and interior design project was prepared by the Czech architectural practice Znamení Čtyř (Richard Sidej, Juraj Matula, Martin Bambas). The brief involved changing the function of what were originally residential buildings in order to meet the specific operational requirements of the Museum. This was achieved by enlarging and fully utilizing the interior spaces and connecting the two buildings on all floors. The interior spaces of both buildings have been given a primarily horizontal arrangement which permits easy circulation throughout the complex. In comparison with the Museum’s previous headquarters in Jáchymova Street, the ceilings are considerably lower and the rooms are smaller, thus creating more space overall which is used for offices and, above all, for enlarged restoration workshops and depositories. The interior layout is based on the specific needs of the Museum’s various departments, in particular the archives, depositories, public areas and restoration workshops. It is now a multi-functional building with links between internal and external operations and a sophisticated arrangement of the Museum’s various units. Apart from in the basement, the two buildings are directly connected on all floors. This connection greatly facilitates operations and simplifies orientation. Wheelchair use was also taken into consideration when designing the interior spaces.
   From a design perspective, the main focus was on the ground floor which redefines the whole building and provides new service areas for the public. After seeing all the Museum’s permanent exhibitions, visitors will be able to relax in the pleasant setting of the Café Altschul, find out more details in the Information and Reference Centre or see a temporary exhibition in The Robert Guttmann Gallery. The previously cramped entrance from U Staré školy Street has been extended into an elegant glazed vestibule with marble cladding and stainless steel features. The public areas are located on the ground and first floors, including the library and reading room, collection department reading room, photo studio and photo archive. The second and third floors include facilities with limited public access, including textile and metal restoration workshops, a new paper restoration workshop, depositories and offices of the Judaic Studies and Holocaust departments. On the shaded north-facing side of the other building are situated the archive rooms, library depositories and metal restoration workshops, all with thermal insulation and optimum air-conditioning facilities. On the top floor are situated the administrative sections - the economic department, exhibition and public relations department, computer network section and the director’s office.
The key features of the Museum’s new office building include the modern design of the archives and depositories and the library facilities. The Museum depositories feature the latest in technology with fully air-conditioned rooms and outer walls that are lined with reinforcing insulation material. Special panels have been installed in the inner walls which make it possible to fully regulate the temperature of the rooms, thus making for optimum storage conditions. Solid ‘sandwich’ panels have been installed in window openings to reinforce heat resistance and eliminate daylight and UV rays. As a result, heat exchange is minimal. Air humidifiers and, where necessary, dehumidifiers are located in the rooms to facilitate the precise regulation of humidity. All the depository and archive rooms have been based on the same technical considerations.
   Other measures that guarantee ideal storage conditions include the use of UV-stop fluorescent lights, safety doors, a central electronic security system, anti-fire facilities and special channels with outer wall flood sensors which, in the event of a flood, will direct the water out and at the same time sound an alarm.
The most significant changes have been made to the restoration workshops. These rooms have been specially designed to facilitate the use of state-of-the-art technology. A new paper restoration workshop has also been opened.

Museum Reference Centre
   The newly opened Reference Centre on the ground floor of the Jewish Museum’s new headquarters is an important resource that will certainly be of welcome to the general public. Equipped with the latest computer technology and a reference library, it provides comprehensive services, both traditional and electronic, focusing in detail on the subject of Judaism and the history of the Jews. The Reference Centre’s small, thematically arranged reference library comprises dictionaries, encyclopaedias (on general topics and Judaica), publications dealing with Israel, Jewish history, Bible studies and liturgy, Czech studies and Prague history, books published by the Jewish Museum, directories of museums, libraries and galleries, the periodicals Rosh Chodesh, Judaica Bohemiae and the Jewish Yearbook. Thematic CD-ROMs and the database of the Museum’s Holocaust and collection departments are also on open access here. The Reference Centre features the Aleph automated library system which makes it possible to search electronically for documents housed in the Jewish Museum’s library holdings and to find information via the Internet. Xerox services, factual and bibliographic searches, consultation and reference services are all provided by the Reference Centre.

Opening hours: daily 9am - 4pm
Markéta Kotyzová
Reference Centre

Depositories of the Museum Library, Reading Room and Research Room
   The Museum library is housed in the office building in U Staré školy Street and has two depositories (1,740 sq. m.) containing approximately 75,000 volumes. The books are stored in specially designed compact shelves which facilitate optimum circulation of air and control humidity. The library depositories have been designed to create an optimum air-conditioned environment; this has been achieved by installing special units in the wall cavities which cool or heat the space as required. In conjunction with the building’s energy accumulation, this helps maintain a stable environment with regards temperature and humidity. Solid ‘sandwich’ panels have been installed in window openings to reinforce heat resistance and eliminate daylight and UV rays. The library features safety doors, a central electronic security system, anti-fire facilities and special channels with outer wall flood sensors which, in the event of a flood or excessive water heating/cooling, will direct the water out and simultaneously sound the alarm. Unlike the Reference Centre, the library is divided into two sections, a reading room and a specially air-conditioned research room. The temperature and humidity of the research room is strictly controlled to provide ideal conditions for the protection of old and rare prints and archive materials. Most of the Library’s publications are available for reference in the reading room.

The reading and research rooms are open to the public on Tuesday and Thursday 9am - 5pm.
Iva Lukaschková, depository administration
Alena Jelínková, chief librarian

The Robert Guttmann Gallery
   Apart from a brief period between 1945 and 1948, the Jewish Museum has never previously had its own exhibition space for the presentation of temporary exhibitions of a thematic nature. The need for such a space has been apparent for many years, for without it the Museum has not been able to feature the results of its specialist, research and restoration operations on an ongoing basis and thereby to acquaint the public with broader displays of specific items from its collections. Until now the winter prayer hall on the upper floor of the Spanish Synagogue has been used for this purpose, but it is difficult to control the temperature and humidity of this room, thus making it unsuitable for the display of more sensitive materials (a permanent exhibition of synagogue silver is currently being prepared here).
   The newly opened gallery covers an area of 80 square metres and meets all the requirements for a modern presentation of art and museum collections. It is located on the ground floor in the north-east section of the new Jewish Museum complex. The use of high-quality easy-to-regulate window blinds and a double-door entrance makes it possible to fully control the temperature and humidity of the room, thus creating ideal conditions for the display of even the most sensitive of materials (parchments, old prints, historic textile collections). The use of quality low-energy lighting and the possibility of regulating the intensity and angle of light make it possible to display historic materials that are extremely sensitive to light. The continuous projecting course at the top of the wall is fitted with safety sensors, thus making for an easy, safe and aesthetic display of pictures.
   The opening of a new gallery for short-term thematic exhibitions has been a long-awaited event. In view of the fact that the Museum’s art collection has boasted the most significant acquisitions in the past decade, the new gallery will be a venue primarily for the display of pictures from this collection, which has previously been shown only to a very limited extent. The exhibitions will focus mainly on Czech Jewish artists from the late 19th and early 20th century, although it is also our intention to feature post-war and contemporary modern art.
   The gallery is named after the well-known Prague naive painter Robert Guttmann, whose work is featured in the first exhibition. In this way it hopes to remind the present generation of this artistic figure and to promote young artists in their search for originality of artistic expression. There will also be exhibitions of historic works that highlight the contribution of Jewish artists to various areas of Czech culture. The gallery will hold four to five exhibitions a year. For the next few years we have already planned to showcase the work of a number of Czech Jewish artists, including Emil Orlik, Alfred Justitz, Jiří Kars, Bedřich Feigl and a host of less well-known names.
Planned exhibitions for 2001 and 2002 in the Robert Guttmann Gallery:

2001 April - August Robert Guttmann, Painter and Traveller from Prague
August - December Returned Pictures - from the collections of the National Gallery in Prague
2002 January - April Robert Horwitz - drawings by a Prague-based artist American
April - May Benjamin Levy - an Italian-American Jewish painter
June - August Adolf Kohn - a naive painter of Prague’s Jewish Town
September - December Wilfried Prager - a young Prague-based artist from France


Open daily 10am - 5pm Open until 6pm in summer Closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
Admission CZK 30

Arno Pařík, curator

Metal Restoration Workshop
   The Museum’s metal restoration workshop is focused primarily on the restoration of the Museum’s silver collection and other metal objects (mostly brass and pewter, but also iron and other metals). In addition, it is involved in the treatment of wooden objects from various genizot. Previously based in cramped and unventilated rooms (in the Museum’s former headquarters in Jáchymova Street with the most basic of facilities), it is now housed in spacious rooms where it is possible to treat several objects in various processes simultaneously. Further high-quality facilities may be added to the workshop at a later stage, in particular for the electrolytic treatment of objects. In view of the nature of the metal collection, the workshop is arranged in two sections. The first comprises the goldsmith’s, silversmith’s and metal-chiseller’s unit where objects are restored by using traditional machines, tools and implements (e.g. goldsmith’s tables for repairing damaged objects). Restoration work involves the use of many special implements and chaser’s tools (mostly supplied by the firms J. Schmalz and Swah) which have recently been acquired by the workshop. The second section comprises the chemical laboratory, which is specially designed for de-conservation, cleaning, corrosion removal, passivation and conservation of metal objects from the Museum’s collections. This involves the use of various mechanical, chemical, electrochemical and electrolytic processes. Ultrasonic instruments, such as the Teson bath and the Sono Flash gun are used when removing mechanical impurities. A flexible shaft machine (a Karl Fischer make) is used for the mechanical removal of corrosion. Other facilities include three high-quality Köttermann fume cupboards and special equipment supplied by the firm Merci, such as polypropylene baths, lab tables and cupboards. In view of the fact that restoration work involves the use of harmful materials, the whole workshop has a modern ventilation system to protect the health of staff. Both sections include a natural gas main connection and an air compressor. Photographic documentation (an integral aspect of restoration work) is made with a Nikon camera before, during and after all work. In addition, an electronic database of restoration cards has recently been created.
Pavel Veselý and Martina Jarešová Metal restoration

Paper and Parchment Restoration Workshop
   The paper and parchment restoration workshop was established in the new headquarters of the Jewish Museum in February 2001. This unit will be used for the Museum’s collection of drawings and graphic art, manuscripts and rare prints, library, archives and Holocaust department. The smaller of the two rooms has been designed primarily for the restoration of parchments which are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. It is therefore specially air-conditioned, which means that even the most damaged illuminated manuscripts can be restored here. There is a fume cupboard that facilitates work with chemicals and a light table that is useful when replacing missing sections of paper and parchment. There is also an Olympus stereoscope and digital camera which are currently on loan. Should this equipment prove effective, it will be purchased and fully utilized in the course of quality restoration work and photo-documentation. The microscope is an important instrument for determining the degree of damage to the paper or parchment and for selecting suitable restoration measures. The second room is divided into several sections, each focusing on a specific kind of restoration treatment. In view of the diverse nature of the Jewish Museum’s collections of drawings, graphic art, books, parchment scrolls and archive materials, it is necessary to have multi-purpose facilities here. Book presses, a guillotine and a folding machine etc. are used for restoring book bindings. A cutting machine is used for cutting out picture mounts when preparing two-dimensional collection objects for exhibitions. This equipment makes it possible to restore and adjust paper and parchment objects on the Museum’s very premises. Laboratory facilities include a large bath and a mobile drier for cleaning paper, as well as water enrichment equipment (which distils water and if required raises the pH level by means of a mixture of calcium and magnesium carbanate), which makes it possible to de-oxidize and to clean paper and parchment. Later in the year we intend to buy a vacuum table and leaf-casting machine for replacing missing parts of books and prints with paper pulp and for making handmade paper. By the end of 2001 the paper and parchment restoration workshop will be fitted out with additional standard equipment, thus making it possible to carry on all restoration measures for the treatment of the majority of the Museum’s collections.
Markéta Kropáčková and J.Stankiewicz Paper restoration

Textile Restoration Workshop
   The Museum’s textile restoration is where selected objects are restored and preserved for the Museum’s permanent exhibitions and for local and foreign exhibitions. The work of textile restorers primarily concerns the professional case of all the textile collections, which involves protecting objects from damage and, above all, providing for their suitable storage in the Museum’s depositories.
   There are three connected rooms which have been specially designed and equipped to meet the requirements of restoration staff. The main room - the laboratory - is used for cleaning objects both with and without chemicals, for all preparatory work and for arranging and dyeing materials in the course of restoration. The other rooms are used, respectively, as a study for conservation and restoration and as an office for writing up restoration reports and storing various materials.
   Textile restorers have more working space than the Museum’s other workshop staff, which is necessary for handling textiles that are often both very large and very fragile. Having more room means that we will be able to install special facilities such as a vacuum table for cleaning textiles.
Nika Nauschova and Helena Votočková Textile restoration


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