The glorious painted replica of the vaulted ceiling of the destroyed synagogue in Gwozdziec has been unveiled in the building of the forthcoming Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
The ceiling, constructed over the past year and a half using traditional timber-framing and other historic methods, will be the centerpiece installation of the museum. The reconstruction, and the student workshops that created the intricately painted ceiling, were coordinated by the Handshouse studio. (See our previous posts on this project.)
The museum building will open April 19 during ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and its educational and cultural programming will also begin. The museum itself will formally open next year, after the exhibition is installed (a process that could take eight or nine months).
Some regard the brilliantly colorful ceiling as the “Jewish Sistine Chapel.”
The ceiling is a rich panoply in milky blues and brownish reds of zodiac signs and animal symbols, along with inscriptions in Hebrew. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the program director of the museum’s core exhibition, said some of the animals express Messianic yearnings prevalent in Polish Jewish communities after a period of wars and destruction in the 17th century.
“It’s a heavenly canopy,” Kirshenblatt-Gimblett said. “It’s celestial. It’s literally the heavens and the world to come.”
Among the participants in the ceiling inauguration was Maria Piechotka, the doyenne of post-war researchers on Poland’s synagogues, who is now in her 90s. Hundreds of wooden synagogues in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania were torched by the Nazis. The book Maria and her late husband, Kazimierz, wrote on Poland’s wooden synagogues in the 1950s was a milestone in preserving knowledge and memory of these destroyed buildings.