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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus



Published: 2021-06-15


Fragment of Frieze Tile
17th century
Ref. No. VŽM 9111/1267
During the archaeological excavations of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius in 2011 and 2016 - 2019, a large number of tile fragments were found. In 2018, six fragments with the image of a lion or parts of it were uncovered. One of them, with a lion figure standing on the hind paws and holding a central motif (shield (?)) in its front paws, is depicted in the photo.
The lion is one of the oldest symbols in Jewish art. It symbolizes God, Israel, and the Messiah. There are four typical ways to depict lions: a lion in a group of four animals along with an eagle, deer, and leopard; a pair of lions lying or squatting opposite each other are depicted as reliable guardians of the gate and the Torah; rampant lions, symbolizing the divine power to execute punishment or show mercy; and heraldic lions standing on their hind paws and holding the central motif (crown, Tree of Life, menorah or the Covenant plate) in their front paws.
Frieze tiles are in the shape of a horizontal rectangle used for the transition of the furnace walls to the plinth or cornice. In Vilnius, the earliest tiles of this type were found on the Vilnius bishop's estate and a land plot on Klaipėdos St. 7A together with the tiles dating back to the 15th c. Later, this type of tile was not used for about a hundred years. The manufacture of separate groups of frieze tiles in Vilnius was renewed and the tiles were again used in the first half of the 17th century. Among them the tiles with two lions holding a shield in the centre with the coat of arms of the city of Gdańsk on it.
Niunkaitė-Račiūnienė, Aistė. The world of Lithuanian Jewish traditional art and symbols: pictures, images and texts. Vilnius, 2011, p. 347-357.
Vilnius Tiles of the 15th - 17th Centuries. Compiled by Kęstutis Katalynas. Vilnius, 2015, pp. 45-46.
Prepared by Asta Vasiliauskaitė
Conservationist-researcher of the Inventory, Research and Conservation of Holdings Department
© Photo courtesy of Živilė Paužaitė
© From the holdings of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
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