We have only a few days left. The coves are finished and the lantern is coming closer and closer to completion. For months we’ve honed our painting skills on flat, level, table height surfaces but painting the lantern in place is a whole new challenge. We’ve been spending whole days crouched up inside painting on vertical and overhead surfaces. We’re taking extra care not to let the paint drip or run, trying to not overload our brushes with paint and paying close attention to what is below us.
The other big challenge has been the space constraints. Only four people can work on the lantern at one time, yet the total square footage of painting surface is roughly equivalent to an entire dome. A dome will usually take nearly our entire group of leaders and students two weeks to complete. Now just two days from the end of our workshop we’re on schedule and everything is looking beautiful!
What we refer to as the lantern is the crowning cupola of the Gwozdzeic synagogue ceiling where the baroque interior curvature of the ceiling resolves at its highest point. Added in the early 1700’s, to a barrel vaulted ceiling, it was part of a renovation that inspired a stylistic trend that informed wooden synagogue architecture across the entirety of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth (Hubka pg. 57). Now in our final workshop in Wroclaw it remains as the last unfinished element in our ceiling.
Above: Images and studies of the lanterns structure and interior painting.
Those familiar with Ottoman and Middle Eastern art and imagery might find the designs in the lantern surprising. The main design feature, which we refer to as the arabesque, has Ottoman roots. Below you can see a similar design in the repeating sections of an Ottoman tent as well as a similar design feature on wall tiles in the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. Polish Jews were not isolated. Communities such as Gwozdziec maintained cultural connections with Sephardic Jewish communities and were familiar with popular Ottoman motifs. The specific tent pictured below would have also been well known to Poles because of its existence as a symbol of Polish unity and nationalism after Poles captured it in Vienna from invading Turkish forces in 1683 (Hubka pg.37).
Above: Ottoman tent captured in Vienna.
Above: Breier’s color study of the lantern next to tiles from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
Hubka, Thomas C. Resplendent Synagogue. Brandeis University Press. Lebanon NH. 2003
A Book Recommendation: Go for Gombrich!
Sense of Order. A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art (1979) is a book by E.H. Gombrich, published after he presented his investigations at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as part of a programme called Wrightsman Lectures. Gombrich was an Austrian art historian, probably one of the most significant figures of this discipline in 20th Century Europe. This book is a very broad and complex analysis of human’s natural tendency to search for regularity within disordered surroundings and, as a consequence, eagerness to create patterns, which later become ornaments. Gombrich performs a profound analysis focusing on aesthetic preferences present in various cultures, general aspects of the subconscious, physical perception and also the influence of constant interaction of nature and civilization on the forms of art.
Sense of Order. A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art was published in English by Phaidon Press Ltd, London.
Since I didn’t manage to access an English version of the book, I decided to provide extract taken from polish edition (Universitas, Kraków 2009), translated by myself.
We shall refrain from the temptation of treating overall perception [of decorations] as an act of simply viewing without appropriate intensification of attention. Thanks to the rule of graduated complexity, we are able to absorb much more from the general character of decoration than we can actually analyze and describe. […] The ability and creativity of the decorations’ maker have an impact on more than just our conscious perception. A master of crafts knows from his own experience, that we can feel, without any specific investigations, this extremely significant difference between disorder and abundance. What is certain is the fact that when confronting all the orders within orders, our tendency to verify regularity without the feeling of losing any part of an infinite and inexhaustible variety, switches on. This process may demand our acceptance of this form of art, which used to be claimed to be of little importance. History shows that some great traditions of ornamental styles cross the borders of pure decoration and are actually able to transform overflow into a whole and undefined meaning- into a mystery.
Laura with Maria Piechotka at the Gwozdziec Reconstruction opening in Warsaw.