Online database of Jewish art

August 10, 2017 by Dov Smith
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The Centre for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has launched the world’s largest online database of Jewish art.

Tripartite Mahzor, Lake Constance Area, ca. 1322 (Oxford, Bodleian Library) – The Tripartite Mahzor is a magnificent illuminated manuscript divided into three volumes, housed today in Budapest, London and Oxford. It is adorned by paintings in colors and gold, produced in a non-Jewish workshop. Here the initial word: כל (“All”) opening the Eve of Yom Kippur prayers is written within a colorful panel adorned with hybrid creatures typical to this workshop. This image is taken from the Ursula and Kurt Schubert Archive held in the Center for Jewish Art. (Credit: Center for Jewish Art / Hebrew University)

The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art is a collection of digitized images and information about Jewish artifacts from all over the world. The online collection includes more than 260,000 images of objects and artifacts from 700 museums, synagogues and private collections in 41 different countries, as well as architectural drawings of 1,500 synagogues and Jewish ritual buildings from antiquity to the modern day.

The public can access the Bezalel Index of Jewish Art and start exploring the world of Jewish art at http://cja.huji.ac.il/browser.php. Amateur or professional researchers easily access more than a quarter of a million images, with accompanying details and descriptions, either by simple keyword search, or according to such categories as Iconographical Subject, Origin, Artist, Object, Community, Collection or Location.

The Centre for Jewish Art (http://cja.huji.ac.il) is the world’s foremost institution dedicated to the preservation of the Jewish artistic heritage. The Center’s activities include documentation, research, education and publishing. Under the direction of Dr. Vladimir Levin, the Center has in recent years worked steadily toward completing the Index by photographing, measuring and painstakingly describing and categorizing each piece to be made available online to the public.

“Jewish culture is largely perceived as a culture of texts and ideas, not of images. As the largest virtual Jewish museum in the world, the Index of Jewish Art is a sophisticated tool for studying visual aspects of Jewish heritage. We hope that making this Index available will lead to further in-depth study of primary sources, and serve as an enduring launching pad for the study of the historical and cultural significance of Jewish art for many years to come,” said Dr. Levin.

The extensive collection contains over 100,000 entries in the Jewish Ritual Architecture category alone. “We cannot physically preserve all Jewish buildings everywhere, but we can preserve them visually through documentation and drawings,” said Dr. Levin.

Vladamir Levin

The digitization of the Center for Jewish Art archives became possible in the framework of a joint project with the National Library of Israel and Judaica Division of Harvard University Library. It was generously funded by the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe, “Landmarks” Program of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, Judaica Book Fund endowments established by David B. Keidan (Harvard), as well as by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Morris and Beverly Baker Foundation, Mrs. Josephine Urban and Mr. William Gross.

The Israeli government recognised The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art as a non-tangible national heritage in 2012, and it is today considered the most comprehensive database of Jewish art in the world, existing as a virtual museum available to all.

The launch was held at World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

 

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