Doors of the Temple

Reconstruction of the 18th Century Italian Holy Ark


The reconstruction and preservation of the holy ark of the Italian synagogue has been finally completed after three years. Some 30 years ago, an 18th century holy ark was sent to the museum in pieces. It had been taken from the synagogue in Trino Vercellese , in the region of Piemont. The items were covered in two layers of paint, dating from different periods, which covered the unique motifs of the ark – its architectural shape that alludes to the Temple (columns, gates, windows, a perspective description of the portico and façade of the temple), flowered decorative motifs in the spirit of the Baroque (acanthus, lily leaves, flower bouquets and bowls of fruit), and Jewish symbolic motifs. These layers of paint also covered gold decorations and marble drawings. The ark was reassembled at the museum and set up in a special building planned by the architect, Werner Witkover.
Toward 2000 a request was sent to the museum by the Grand Palais Museum in Paris to exhibit the doors of the Holy Ark at the Vision du futur exhibition. It was the only item from Israel; the doors, which reflect the Temple, symbolize the hopes of the Jewish People. In preparation for the exhibition, the doors were completely restored thanks to a special donation. The well-known Italian art restorer, Pia Shaka, came to Israel, and helped, together with the Israeli restorer, Noga Shusterman, helped with the uncovering. After the doors were reconstructed, Noga Shusterman continued working in uncovering and preserving the Holy Ark itself.
The reconstruction took approximately three years, and involved meticulous work so as not to harm the original layer. Slowly the greens and gold of the ark’s columns were revealed, as were the tablets of stone with the ten commandments and the inscriptions in gold against a black background, a painting of the temple’s portico and its doors, and above it a large shell in the Baroque style, the fence that delineates the holy ark and the golden metal lamps that were exposed with the help of the metal restorer, Ravit Lin.
The history and reconstruction of the holy ark, from the small Italian village to Tel Aviv, as well as the investigation vis-à-vis its date, spread over a period of over 200 years, beginning with a small Italian town to the big city of Torino, to Milan and on to Tel Aviv: the synagogue was designed for the six Jewish remaining families. Despite the small number of Jews, they commissioned a magnificent holy ark; at that period Jews were forbidden to invest in themselves – in their clothing or jewelry – and the money that had accumulated was invested in the Holy Ark in the synagogue.
Over the years the Jews left the town, and the synagogue was demolished in 1958. Its furniture was transferred to a warehouse. Dr. Bruno Modena, a Jewish collector from Milan, found the items and donated them to the museum.
When the parts of the holy ark arrived in Israel in 1973 - with the help of the Beit Elran Foundation and Tel Aviv municipality -they was examined by the Italian restorer, Pia Shaka; it was clear 20 years ago that the gold layer, that had been covered in paint for many years, still existed.
The absence of any wall inscriptions, which had been erased over the years, coupled with the fact that the documents of the Jewish communities of Piedmont that had been in the big synagogue in Turino that had burnt down in 1942, made it even harder to determine the date. Architect Yaakov Pinkerfeld studied the history of the ark, and architect Prof. David Cassuto began investigating its date. The results of this study show that the Holy Ark had been built in the 1770s, and it was the first among the holy arks in Italy whose wood was covered in golden leaves, and was painted to resemble marble.
In the course of his study, Prof Cassuto also discovered the name of the architect who built the synagogue: Benedetto Alfieri, who was also the architect of the home of the dukes of Savoy. The artist’s identity remains a mystery.


Curator: Nitza Baharuzi-Baroz
Opens: February 17

Closes: December 31, 2007