The wall paintings in the house at Brunngasse 8 offer a unique insight into the history of Zurich’s Jews in the Middle Ages. A museum makes this significant item of Jewish cultural heritage accessible to the public. The SIG supports the project and is member of the sponsoring committee.
During renovation work on the house at Brunngasse 8 in the old town of Zurich in 1996, workers accidentally came across Medieval wall paintings. They date back to the 14th century, in which they were commissioned by a reputable Jewish family. After their rediscovery, the paintings were carefully restored and partly brought to the fore. The murals caused an international stir and have found their way into standard works on the cultural history of Jews in Europe. They offer a unique glimpse of Jewish life in days long gone by and represent an important element of Zurich’s urban history and Switzerland’s Jewish cultural heritage. The SIG is committed to their preservation and conservation. It supports the project and is a member of the museum’s sponsoring committee (“Trägerverein”).
Medieval Jewish wall paintings in Zurich
The wall paintings in Brunngasse belong to the “Minnesang” tradition, the tradition of courtly love poetry and songs. They are directly linked to the “Manessische Liederhandschrift”, the best known and most comprehensive Medieval manuscript of songs in German. The mural paintings show typical scenes of falconry and courtly life. However, it is the frieze with the emblems of some of the influential noble families of the time that makes these paintings unique, for the emblems are inscribed in Hebrew. It is these inscriptions that identify the house’s Jewish inhabitants as the commissioners of the paintings. Contemporary documents indicate that the family in question enjoyed a high reputation in Zurich. This opens up completely new aspects of Jewish life in Switzerland in the Middle Ages.
“Schauplatz Brunngasse” makes Jewish history visible
The wall paintings are of great value to the cultural heritage of Jews in Zurich and in Europe as a whole. Never before have we had such a comprehensive insight into the living quarters of a Jewish family in the Middle Ages. In 2019, the “Brunngasse 8” society was founded on the joint initiative of Zurich’s former municipal archaeologist Dölf Wild and the SIG. The society took over the municipal property as tenant and has since run the small museum there called “Schauplatz Brunngasse”. Besides the wall paintings as its main exhibit, the museum is also planning to highlight further social, cultural and historic aspects that form the backdrop to the murals. One of its main aims is to make the related history visible and experienceable in its original setting, thereby also revealing the interfaces between Jewish life in Zurich and the city’s general history in that era. Ultimately, it will show that Jews and non-Jews share a common history.
The SIG’s commitment to preserving Jewish cultural heritage
The SIG guided and supported the project and the creation of the small museum from the start. It was especially keen to emphasise the close connections between the Jewish cultural heritage and Swiss history in general, which makes the preservation and presentation of this extraordinary historic relic so important. The small museum can also build on municipal and cantonal support. The SIG hopes the museum will meet with widespread public interest and that “Schauplatz Brunngasse” will help raise public awareness of Zurich’s Jewish history.
Images: Amt für Städtebau, Juliet Haller