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Interior of the Synagogue in Bordeaux with its Architect, A. Corcelles

Jean Lubin Vauzelle (Angerville-la-Gâte, 1776 – ?, 1837)

Bordeaux, circa 1812

Oil on canvas, 98.8 x 109 cm

Jean Lubin Vauzelle, Intérieur de la synagogue de Bordeaux avec son architecte, A. Corcelles

Jean Lubin Vauzelle, Intérieur de la synagogue de Bordeaux avec son architecte, A. Corcelles, Bordeaux, vers 1812

The building of monumental synagogues in the 19th century is one of the most visible manifestations of the increasing Jewish presence in French public life. Although often temporary places of worship already existed in regions with Jewish communities before the Revolution, notably in Bordeaux, where there were eight at the beginning of the 19th century, this edifice, inaugurated in 1812, was the first consistorial synagogue (seat of a consistory and a chief rabbinate) built in France after the imperial decrees organising Jewish worship in 1808. Of the seven districts created on present-day French territory, the Bordeaux consistory then controlled ten of the country’s south-west départements.

This synagogue, in rue Causserouge in the Jewish quarter, was designed by the Bordeaux architect Armand Corcelles (1765-1843), portrayed here by the painter Jean Lubin Vauzelle, a disciple of Hubert Robert specialised in architectural subjects.

In the neoclassical style with a basilica plan, it adapted the architectural repertoire of the time to its specific use. The central position of the Torah podium and lectern (bimah), the seats on either side and the women’s galleries above are reminiscent of the Sephardic, “Portuguese” synagogue in Amsterdam, completed in 1675. The very specific form of the Torah Ark (Aron Kodesh) – whose wooden doors are not concealed by the traditional curtain or screen (parochet) – is another direct copy. Note also, in front of the bimah covered with a red velvet drape and below the menorah, the large seven-branched candelabrum recalling the one in the Temple in Jerusalem, the silver Torah ornaments (rimmonim) on display, another typically Sephardic custom. The overall impression is of order and the respectability of what was then known as “Israelite” worship, in the context of the project to regenerate and integrate the Jewish minority.

As suggested by the skylight in the vault, this synagogue was built between buildings on either side and had no lateral openings. Its façade, known from a drawing in Bordeaux’s municipal archives, clearly asserted the edifice’s use, rare before the mid-19th century and confirming the exceptional integration of the Jews in Bordeaux. Although the two pillars on either side of the doorway, recalling those at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem, Yakhin and Boaz, are quite often represented in Christian art, its bays have the form of the two-horned mitre of the high priest Aaron, which Napoleon imposed on the Grand Sanhedrin in 1806. The facade is surmounted by the Tablets of the Law, the principal symbol designating synagogues in France until the 1940s.

It was destroyed by fire in 1873 and rebuilt in 1882.

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