Archival9" x 12" Digital Print
An unusual Leopard-like creature was painted in a large medallion on the north side of the ceiling. The artist created a realistic leopard body but then inserted human facial features on to the leopard’s head. At first sight, this creature could be interpreted as a naïve example of primitive, anthropomorphic folk art from the shtetl. But there nothing naïve about the more than twenty-five other realistically drawn animals that fill the Gwozdziec Synagogue ceiling including the leopard’s body. Although the meaning of this leopard-like animal is unknown, a likely explanation is that it may have symbolized a human, perhaps a famous rabbi, represented by the leopard. Such symbolism occurs frequently in religious writings as in references to the “Ari” or lion. In any case, the prohibition of painting human figures may have motivated the artist to symbolize a particular person with an animal figure that references the form a human face.