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Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme

Retour History of the Collections

Jewish ceremonial objects Jewish ceremonial objects 17th and 18th centuries
As displayed at the turn of the century in a display case of the Musée national du Moyen Âge, in Paris.

The Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme is the successor to the Musée d’art juif de Paris, established in 1948 by a private association to pay homage to a culture that had been destroyed by the Holocaust. The first collections of this museum comprised religious objects handed back in 1951 by the American Jewish Restitution Successor Organisation, commissioned to redistribute Jewish cultural goods looted by the Nazis. Then, on the initiative of the museum’s founder, Léon Frenkiel, a collection of documents on European synagogue architecture was built up. In the early years, acquisitions consisted mainly of European religious objects and also sought to represent North African Judaism. Then, the museum’s first curator, Marie Chabchay, embarked on building up a narrow but comprehensive collection of graphic works by Russian and German Jewish artists. There followed works by artists from the Paris school, and then, more recently, various gifts.

The other core collection comes from the Musée national du Moyen Âge. This collection, which played a key role in gaining recognition for Jewish art, was built up by Isaac Strauss, a Jew of Alsatian origin, born in Strasbourg in 1806, who moved to Paris in 1827. Appointed by Louis-Philippe to supervise Court balls, then music director of the Vichy spa establishment, he retained these responsibilities under the Second Empire. His villa at Vichy housed a large collection of furniture and works of art. During his travels throughout Europe, he acquired items of furniture, ceremonial objects and Hebrew manuscripts, building up a pioneering collection of outstanding quality.

This collection was featured in the Universal Exhibition of 1878 at the Palais du Trocadéro, and this had a decisive impact on the formation of large Jewish collections at the end of the nineteenth century. The objects were described by Georges Stenne in a catalogue which included very clear sketches, and this was the first bibliographical reference to Jewish art.

At the time of his death, Strauss’s collection of Jewish objects amounted to a hundred and forty nine pieces. After changing hands a number of times, it was acquired in 1890 by Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild who gave it to the State, and was subsequently augmented by individual gifts. However, the apparent eclecticism of this collection, which contains some remarkable and unique pieces, shows a complete indifference to history and folk tradition.


Marie Chabchay Marie Chabchay Paris, early 20th century
©Photograph by Michael Nappelbaum

Since its inception in 1988, the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme has endeavoured to add to the original collections, focusing on France, the history of the Jews, religious art, ethnography and works by Jewish artists.

The long-term loans from the Musée d’Art juif and the Musée national du Moyen Âge, which also contributed a number of medieval Jewish tombstones, have been augmented by loans from the Musée National d’Art moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, and the Musée national de la Céramique de Sèvres.

The collection of ceremonial art has been considerably enriched by works from the treasure-house of the Paris synagogues loaned by the Consistories of Paris and the Moselle, of liturgical textiles by the Jewish Museum in Prague, and a collection of folk art objects from the Musée historique lorrain in Nancy.

The Fondation du judaïsme français has contributed several modern and contemporary works of art, and the Carnavalet museum has added to the collection of medieval tombstones.


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