24 November 2009

Illuminated Leaves: Medieval manuscripts

Facsimile Editions (UK) offers 450 different illuminated leaves available from the facsimile editions of the Kennicott Bible, Rothschild Miscellany, Barcelona Haggadah and a few from the North French Miscellany.

While the company also offers leaves from additional Hebrew manuscripts that are suitable for bat/bar mitzvah, brit milah, festivals, traveller's prayers, weddings, anniversaries, as well as gifts by name and more, the entire site should be of interest to all those who find medieval illustration fascinating. The notes for each page (just float your mouse over the page name to see the detailed notes) are also interesting.

From the Rothschild Miscellany, find exquisitely illuminated pages for Adon Olam, Shir HaKavod, Mah Tovu, Nishmat, Kiddush, Pirkei Avot, Piyuttim, Sheva Berachot, music pages, Eshet Chayil, and items appropriate for such events as weddings, anniversaries or holidays. From the Barcelona Haggadah, find Sheheheyanu and Next Year in Jerusalem.

Click here to see the outstanding decorated individual leaves. Even pages that are mostly black text include imaginative drawings. One page has a pink-spotted dragon with golden claws, Parashot Behar (folio 73) has a bear dipping into a honey jar. Find lions, centaurs, the red heifer (Parashah Chukkat, folio 88), human figures and design elements.

There are special pages that separated sections, called carpet pages, such as this one (right, folio 122).

The facsimile editions were printed on special parchment paper in up to 9-12 colors (depending on manuscript) with hand-applied gold leaf.

The major collections include:

THE ROTHSCHILD MISCELLANY (Israel Museum, Jerusalem).
The most elegantly and lavishly executed Hebrew manuscript of the 15th century. It was planned as a sumptuous work to encompass, in minute detail, almost every custom of religious and secular Jewish life. More a library than a book, the manuscript comprises 37 religious and secular works including, Psalms, Job, Siddur, Mahzor, Haggadah, Pirkei Avot and Meshal Haqadmoni.
THE ROTHSCHILD HAGGADAH (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
It is exceptional for its elegant and elaborate illustrations of the Passover story. The illuminated and illustrated Haggadah demonstrates the Ashkenazi Passover seder as we know it. In the margins is Maimonides' Hilkhot Hamez Umatsah, 'Laws Concerning Leavened and Unleavened Bread'. In addition, the piyyutim are exquisitely illuminated with fine miniatures.
THE BARCELONA HAGGADAH (British Library)
Written about 1340 when Barcelona was the center of a thriving center of manuscript illumination, this manuscript is outstanding for rich decorative illuminations scattered throughout the text. Its fanciful figures, medieval musical instruments and pictorial scenes provide fascinating insights into Jewish life in medieval Spain.
THE KENNICOTT BIBLE (Bodleian Library, Oxford)
One of the most exquisite medieval Spanish manuscripts extant. It includes the Tanakh and Rabbi David Kimchi's grammatical treatise Sefer Mikhlol. Moses ibn Zabara was the scribe, Joseph Ibn Hayim the illuminator. In 1476, they created this piece for Isaac, the son of Don Solomon di Braga in La Coruña, Spain. The manuscript includes burnished gold and silver leaf.

And - because genealogy concerns names, dates and people - readers should note that medieval manuscripts often include information on both scribe and illuminator.

On folio page 438, is the page for the scribe, Moshe ibn Zabara (right) indicating for whom and when it was created, while a separate page (folio 447) offers information on the artist Joseph ibn Hayim (left).

Leaves run from £55 each to £130 for a set of leaves.

For more information, click here.

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