With my friends Sabine and Ingo I am walking through the old Jewish quarter of Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) today. One of the most important cultural monuments there is the “Groisse Shil”, a synagogue dating from the mid 19th Century. The building is now used as a carpenter’s workshop. Although the original purpose of the building is hardly to imagine from inside, fragments of the original ceiling paintings are still visible. I want to show them to my friends. What we discover is incredible: Recently uncovered wall paintings with motifs from the bible.
One enteres the carpenter’s workshop of the “Groisse Shil” through the back entrance of the building. The room is filled with dust and noise. I ask a worker if we could see the remains of the painted ceiling on the mezzanine floor. The worker points to the end of the stairs, shaking his head. The stairs are blocked. Apparently they have rented the mezzanine to another company. Then he points to the end of the workshop. We should go there, he says. We think that there is a new staircase to the top, but we’re wrong. We enter a small room – and then we wonder. We see freshly uncovered wall paintings. Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, a lion, a deer, a praying person. The paintings are beautiful.
In the small room obviously works are going on. We see tools and paint buckets. What will happen to these murals? Will they be maintained and made accessible? From what era are they? I know nothing about it, but need to find out more during the next days.
Update, August 14 2013 – latest informations from the local Jewish Museum
The wall paintings were discovered about three monthes ago. The renewed room will be an office but the wall paintings will be preserved and will be accessible for the public through guided tours of the Jewish museum. The murals consist of two layers from different periods. The dominant ones were painted by Isaac Eisicowicz who had a shop in the same street. The Jewish Museum is preparing a photo exhibition about wall paintings in synagoues of Bukovina, including pictures from the Ukrainian part as well as from the Romanian part.
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Keep us posted what you discover!
Wow, wow, wow!
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This is AMAZING. We had a synagogue in Ottawa, Canada that had wonderful frescoes – Some of the other motifs may relate to the signs of the zodiac as our Shul had the full Hebrew calendar cycle – along with a Tomb of the Patriarchs picture, as well as one of Rachel’s Tomb and the Wailing Wall like the synagogue in Czernowitz. These are terrific and every effort should be made to preserve them — there may be more that can be salvaged under the plaster. Thanks so much for posting this. The Hebrew is pretty clear in some places, so it should be easy to fill in the pieces. The Sukkot painting is particularly well done which may mean that more than one artist worked on this chapel. I know that often the artists were not Jewish. In the Ottawa cycle, the Zodiak symbol for Virgo has a woman holding a fleur de lis, the symbol of the trinity.
One of the paintings – the one with a fiddle – has a dedication on the bottom to a Ya’kov (Jacob) xxx MAN – who died on the 21st of Adar, TAV, RESH, TZADI (may ZAYIN) which I believe would date the murals to 1937.
Thank you for this important information, Irving!
Christian, that’s absolutely amazing! Please keep us informed on your discoveries and be sure, we are following your travel log with enthusiasm! Thank you so much!
I’ve been reading other posts to this thread. Hardy is probably correct in that the landscape scenes come from postcards of some kind. Often, when European artists painted scenes from the Holy Land — they left signs of prevailing domestic architectural and stylistic influences. These look like someone doing the best they can to enlarge postcard scenes captured in Israel – and I would imagine with some work, the original sources (which would have been popular items) could be found. Even a quick look at period postcards at delcampe.com convinces me that this is what probably happened. Hardy is also correct that the artist in all liklihood was not Jewish — but his clients most certainly were and even they were unaware that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was in the Jerusalem scene. Framed in this context, the Sukkot image could have also been taken from a genre painting of the era which had been committed to a postcard. It would make sense given the amount of detail in that work.
I don’t think they were applied as wallpaper though. The fidelity of the painting is a bit on the folk art side. The usual process for the fresco technique is to apply plaster and when it is damp – but not dry, the surface is then painted. It is a very unforgiving and time consuming process which requires considerable skill to do properly. It would seem from the slides and the uneven contours of the walls that this is the method that was used.
These are certainly worth preserving – and if that is not a possibility, I would suggest returning with proper lights and having these things photographed professionally in high resolution. There may also infra red filtration that can be employed to reveal more details, or perhaps pieces of the underpainting which can often show compostional changes. The people at the Jewish Museum may be able to help.
If one had these kinds of references, and the original postcards — a virtual restoration could be made and circulated to perhaps shed more light on the subject.
There is also a good chance that the artist has done other work in the area – one would have to check the other churches or buildings still standing from that era where murals may have been commissioned. It is a long shot – but not impossible.
Another crazy thought is this. If the murals can be dated to 1937 as one of the votive inscriptions seems to suggest— then it is conceivable that there may still be some older Czernowich Jews that would remember seeing these works in their original context. Again it is a long shot – but my dad is 87, and can still recall many aspects of the James Street synagogue of his youth in our city that has been gone for over 40 years.
Again – thanks so much for posting this thread.
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Please put me on your mailing list. I visited Chernivtsi last summer, saw the shul, look forward to going back. Grandma was from Sadagora.
Thanks for the pictures.
I did some work and was able to do a modest digital restoration of the Adar fresco from the Goisse Shil. If you send me info on how to post it, I can share it with you.