Wall and ceiling paintings probably dating from the early 19th century have been discovered under thick layers of paint during the restoration of new premises for the Swedish Jewish Museum in the city’s oldest surviving synagogue building.
According to a news release from the Museum, restorers working on the old synagogue building were tipped off when they found a bill from a painter dating from 1811 that described how he had decorated the walls. Among other things, he noted that he had painted 10 half-arches decorated with rosettes, using bronze-colored paint.
The synagogue was built in 1795 and functioned until 1870, when it was sold by the Jewish community and the Great Synagogue in Stockholm — still functioning today — was built. After its closure as a synagogue, the museum says, the building was used as a police station, an auction house and a sailors’ church.
“The discovery of the painting bill meant that we could carefully start to scrape the surface,” the news release quoted museum director Christina Gamstorp as saying. “It was like pulling aside a curtain; suddenly an unknown Jewish heritage came forward.”
Photos released by the Museum show fragments of painting uncovered on walls and part of a ceiling. They include floral motifs and background, painting mostly in a rusty brown, highlighted with red.
Thanks to a grant from the County, Gamsdorp said, “we can now continue to work to expose, centimeter by centimeter, the beautiful decorative painting from the time when it was an active synagogue here.”
She indicated that the restoration work to fully uncover the paintings will continue after the museum is reopened in the synagogue on June 6, Sweden’s National Day, allowing visitors to follow the process.
“It feels especially gratifying to not only convey what is hidden under layers of paint, but also provide knowledge on how to recover it,” she said.
The news release said experts felt that the discovered painting probably showed influences from Germany.
If so, it said, “Given the huge loss of synagogues in the German-language cultural sphere, this would be the only surviving synagogue with German decorative painting from the 1800s.”
The museum was founded in 1987 and since 1992 has been located in Stockholm at Hälsingegatan 2, in a former school building. It closed in 2016 to renovate the new premises in the old synagogue, at Själagårdsgatan 19 , and revamp its core exhibition on the history and culture of Jews in Sweden.