Prague Jewish Museum features artwork depicting mysterious wandering of an old Hebrew manuscript

Prague's Jewish Museum

Prague's Jewish Museum does not only include synagogues and exhibitions commemorating the city's Jewish past. It also features contemporary art with a Jewish theme. In the Robert Guttmann Gallery, round the corner from the historic Spanish Synagogue - you can currently find an interesting artwork named "Layered Histories" created by American artists Cynthia Beth Rubin and Robert J. Gluck. It tells a story of a 13th century illuminated Hebrew manuscript, today known as the "Marseilles Bible".

The history of this manuscript is not well known. It was created in Toledo, in Spain 1260, and in visual terms embodies the mutual influences of Jewish, Christian and Islamic culture at the time. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the end of the 15th century, the Bible was brought out of the country by Jewish refugees. For centuries it mysteriously traveled through different places in Europe and the Middle East, ending up in the late 19th century in the French city of Marseilles where it remains today.

The images and sounds of the places the Bible passed through over the centuries should help the visitor to evoke the various cultures. Says one of the authors of the exhibition, the musician Robert Gluck.

"The visitor to 'Layered Histories' approaches what looks like a medieval Jewish manuscript, though it's very colorful and has many artistic elements. As you approach it, you'll have a pointer in your hand and you'll maneuver the pointer around the surface in various different ways and directions. What happens is; you'll be moving and looking upon a screen in front of you and see images and sounds changing."

The installation of "Layered Histories" is part of a larger project prepared by the Jewish Museum called "Places of Memory".

Exhibition curator Michaela Hajkova:

"The series 'Places of Memory' is a special series within the project 'Jewish Presence in Contemporary Visual Art'. It was designed especially for this year, 2005, which is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. We would like to analyze through the exhibitions in this project various ways of commemorating history."

Whereas the first event of the "Places of Memory" series - made by Czech artist Ales Vesely - consisted of sculpture designed for Pinkas Street in Prague's Jewish Quarter, the "Layered Histories" takes a different approach.

"It is a completely different way of approaching historical topics - that means it is a virtual way. The 'Layered Histories' are about creating virtual spaces and traveling through spaces and time in that cyberspace."

Even though the family of the artist Robert Gluck originally comes from Central Europe, it was his first time in Prague.

"I was walking the streets of the old Jewish Quarter early this afternoon and it was very evocative for me. I was imagining my ancestors walking possibly this city - but also other medieval cities in central Europe - it caused me to think a lot, it was very emotional for me. So it definitely brought me many inspirations."

Based on similar experiences Robert Gluck and his colleague Cynthia Beth Rubin are prepering another project. This time it will be about Prague.