Site icon The Altneuschul Synagogue

Decorative Elements

In Jewish belief, the image of God is prohibited to illustrate. Therefore, botanical motifs were used to decorate Jewish spaces instead. Most of the decoration around the Altneuschul is simple, containing several depictions of various plants.


Portal: a decorated entrance.
Tympanum: the center of a portal, often decorated.
Archivolt: ornamental molding following the curves of the structure.

The entrance point of a medieval building is commonly decorated with a portal. The portal at the Altneuschul is pointed, characteristic of the Gothic style (rounded associated with Romanesque).

The tympanum depicts a tree with twelve branches. It is unknown how significant of a role numerology played in the design process of the space. However, it is often identified as representing the twelve tribes of Israel.1 The archivolts are simple, with small plant motifs adorning each side.


Definition: an element which projects from a wall.

The corbeling at the Altneuschul is typically attached to the vaulting, serving as a decorative ending point. The top of the pier also has several corbeled elements to serve as the capital.

There is a varying degree of detail within the foliage. Likely, there is not any significance in the plants depicted. The simplistic designs are due to the Jewish observation of avoiding idolatrous images.


Capital: decorated portion of a column, located at the top.
Engaged Column
: column attached to flat surface of a structure, can be seen on interiors and exteriors.

The engaged column here serves as further support for the vaulting, seen springing from the top as well as decoration.


Definition: decorative element found on top of intersecting vaulted ribs.

Like the other decorative elements listed above, the bosses consist of various foliages.


  1. H.A. Meek, “The Gothic Phase” in The Synagogue, (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2003),88-94. (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2003), 93.
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