Paris – Ile De France

Museum of Art and History of Judaism – Paris

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Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in the Marais

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism was founded in 1998 in the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan.

The mansion is a superb illustration of French Classical architecture.

It is located in the heart of the Marais, a historic district on the Rive Droite, boasting incomparable cultural and architectural wealth.

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism is also a stone’s throw from the Pletzl in Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the traditional Jewish Quarter of Paris.

As you stroll along Rue du Temple, you won’t resist the urge to discover what lays behind the monumental doors of the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan.

The architect Le Muet built the mansion in 1640 and Claude de Beauvilliers, Duke of Saint-Aignan, purchased it in 1680.

The mansion was seized during the French Revolution and, until 1823, housed the town hall of the former 7th district of Paris.

It was then converted into social housing, a conversion that ended in unsightly elevations and additions!

It changed hands many times until 1843.

It underwent further transformations in order to create workshops for Jewish craftsmen who had fled Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

A century later, 13 of their descendants were arrested on the premises and deported to concentration camps.

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism honours their memory through a series of historic photos and documents.

These are exhibited by the grand staircase, on the ground-floor.

In 1962, the City of Paris acquired the mansion, which was listed Historical Monument the following year.

The restoration work, completed in 1998, returned the building to its original architectural layout and beauty.

The original staircase didn’t survive the various transformations of the past century.

It was, however, rebuilt to the identical!

Don’t forget to look up, on your way to the showrooms, and admire the wonderful trompe-l’oeil ceiling of the upper floor!

It seems as if the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan was the obvious place to house the Museum of Art and History of Judaism.

The museum was founded at the initiative of Jacques Chirac, who was then the mayor of Paris.

Museum of Art and History of Judaism

The Hôtel de Saint-Aignan is undoubtedly an exceptional setting for an exceptional museum!

The doors of the mansion open onto a monumental courtyard surrounded by three wings and centered on a sculpture called Hommage au Capitaine Dreyfus by the artist Louis Mitelberg.

Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew from Alsace, found himself at the heart of a social and political conflict that endangered the Third Republic.

Accused of treason, he was finally cleared after Emile Zola published his famous pamphlet J’Accuse in 1898.

Do not expect to come across an abundance of chocking images or documents related to the tragic events that took place during WWII during your visit.

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism honours the memory of the Jewish communities of France annihilated during the Holocaust through their artistic and cultural heritage, from the Middle Ages to the present.

The exhibits include also exceptional collections coming from the Ashkenazi (Jews of Europe) and Sephardic (North Africa) communities.

You’ll come across a wealth of ethnographic collections of cultural art, prints, costumes, pottery, paintings from the 18th to the 20th century, models of synagogues and objects of worship.

These are all exhibited in bright and welcoming showrooms laid out on several levels.

It is impossible to list them all, but here are a few that intrigued or attracted me most.

If you are a funerary art lover, you will be moved by the splendid medieval funeral tombstones, such as that of Florie, the daughter of Rabbi Judah, who died in 1364.

We know her name, but will never know her face nor her life…

Some ritual objects and furniture, such as the Thora Ark recovered from the synagogue in Modena, are simply unique.

The ark dates to 1472.

It is the only remaining medieval Thora Ark known to date!

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism exhibits also several ancient Thora Arks’ doors and screens (Parokhet), coming from various European countries.

You can discover them in the slideshow below this article.

My interest was also caught by a late 19th century wooden cabin built by Austrian Jews for the Feast of Tabernacles – Soukkot.

The interior walls are painted with scenes representing a charming village nestled in a bucolic landscape next to the Holly City of Jerusalem.

The effect is quite surprising and somewhat unusual.

It is a perfect illustration of inter-cultural assimilation.

The Museum of Art and History of Judaism’s exhibits include a stunning collection of wooden models of synagogues.

These were once built  in Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania but were destroyed during WWII.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the museum dedicated an entire showroom to the festival of Hanukka with a wealth of objects related to this major festival.

As I wrote above, it is impossible to name all the exhibits!

Please visit the slideshow gallery at the bottom of this article in order to discover more of these exceptional exhibits.

They will help you understand why I highly recommend the visit of the Museum of Art and History of Judaism – even to those who are not too keen on museums.

You’ll be impressed by the extreme richness and diversity of the collections, but also because the museum takes the visitor on a discovery journey.

The discovery of Jewish art and culture, often overlooked, as most of us tend to focus on the tragic events of the last century, which seem to have obliterated all that existed before.

Directions: 3rd district – 71 rue du Temple
Metro: Rambuteau on Line 11
Coordinates: Lat 48.860965 – Long 2.355625

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