Jewish Museum in Prague


For Dignity and Adornment
(Exodus: Chapter 28, Verse 2)
Synagogue Textile Treasures from Bohemia and Moravia

26/3 - 23/6 2003 Imperial Stables of Prague Castle (>>official site of exhibition<<)

About Exhibition

The 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
The 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 the present.
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.

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