As for paintings, these were much in use in synagogues and houses already during Hellenistic times. There were many representations of King David and major Biblical events while other themes were derived from the pagan mythology such as Orpheus playing the harp and charming animals meaning the victory of soul over the forces of the universe and death. Later, Christianity was even a source of inspiration for Jewish artists. As an example the extraordinary paintings decorating the synagogue of Doura-Europos built during the 3rd Century were purely Greek in style. Wherever they went Jews would adopt the style of their countries of adoption. There was therefore a long period of artistic activity, with a concept originating from the Bible and Biblical times, which spanned over some 2000 years despite the fact that religion and the uncertainties of life caused by persecutions prevented a free and truly significant development of Jewish art which was so closely associated to religion that it could not be really perceived by gentiles, notably Voltaire, the well-known 18th-Century French writer and philosopher who denied its existence. Strangely enough, it was during the second half of the 19th Century that Jewish ritual art suffered a certain decline at a time when many Jews who wanted to free themselves from religious principles decided to leave their communities so as to live and work like other artists in Europe.
The fact remains that no Jewish art existed in a conventional way if one wished to compare it with other artistic trends deriving from Greek, Roman, Gothic, French, German, Flemish or Italian influences. Still it is a known fact that certain Jewish artists of the Middle Ages, apart from producing illustrated manuscripts, did work on a larger scale. The best example lies with Juan de Levi, a Spanish Jew who was a famous painter during the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th Century. He probably decorated synagogues with non-figurative paintings while his talent was expressed in full in the works he carried out for several Catholic churches. Between 1392 and 1403 he notably painted an altar for the church of Tarazena comprising 32 small and three big paintings that can still be seen today. He also produced two altar pieces, for the church of Montalban and the church of the Hoz de la Vieja in 1405. We can assume that some other Jewish artists followed a similar path during at least three centuries before Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.