We are turning to our readers for help in providing information about the uniquely decorated wooden Ark in this photo -- it is from a synagogue in Tállya, in northeastern Hungary, which was built at the beginning of the 19th century and demolished in the 1960s.
The Hungarian art historian Julia Csejdy, who is preparing a publication on the built heritage of Tállya, sent us this photo in hopes of finding information about the unique iconography and carving.
She notes that not only the carvings but also the structure and the iconography are quite unusual -- the position of the lions, the lace in their mouth, the disposition of the four columns and the surrounding of the tablet with the Tetragrammaton.
The Jewish community archives no longer exist. The only data we have, she notes, " is that the rabbi of Tállya, David Jehuda Rottenberg (1783—1857) was born in Lublin, so we may suppose he invited the craftsmen from that region."
Julia has consulted several experts on Jewish art and synagogue decoration, but none so far has been able to shed further light.
Prof. Ilia Rodov, of Bar Ilan University, who has written extensively about these topics, called the Ark "amazing and unique" and told JHE he has not seen any others similar.
He says that what is particularly unusual "is the dynamic, whirling, almost crazy (Rococo-inspired?) rendering of the pediment set on a neo-Classical facade with some neo-Gothic arches behind the columns - rather than the iconography proper (saving for the ropes and roses). [...] the Tetragrammaton, halo, and lions were recurrent in modern synagogues. The ark's facade is rare but not unprecedented: a tetrastyle was build in Il Tempio synagogue in Rome in the 19th century [...] The ropes the lions hold in their mouths and the huge roses flanking the divine name are indeed most curious and demand more research."
Julia added, "The tertrastyle facade ... is unique only because of the columns that are not grouped by two as usual but they are like a portico of a temple nearly hiding the niche. Also the lions are in a strange position with the lace in their mouth, I never saw that. The carving is really extraordinary and I have already tried to find analogies in the Catholic churches in the region, but couldn't."
Can anyone else help?
Are there any written descriptions in family memoirs?
In his book Synagogues in Hungary 1782-1918, Rudi Klein includes (blurry) pictures from the Hungarian Jewish Archives, showing the devastated synagogue after the Holocaust, with the empty space where the Ark had been.