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Illuminating the Script

The Hebrew manuscripts displayed in the gallery –  most of them dated from the 13th to the 15th century - take the visitor on a journey into the most splendid period in the history of the Hebrew book.

The manuscripts, handwritten by expert scribes, range from the biblical to a wealth of religious, legal, philosophical-scientific, and literary texts. Some of them combine a variety of genres, such as the Rothschild Miscellany (Northern Italy, ca. 1460–1480), a collection of biblical and liturgical books; Rabbinic exegesis; texts on Jewish law; ethics, and philosophy; astronomy and historical legend; and even entertaining literature. Considered as one of the most magnificent Hebrew illuminated manuscripts in existence, its illumination spans almost through 946 pages of text.

Manuscripts masterfully ornamented by artists radiate with beauty and splendor. The Erna Michael Haggadah (South Germany or Bohemia, 1400-1420) is a fine example of rich decoration, including illustrations of the text and lavish illuminated words with a wide range of imaginary creatures, animals, and architectural elements. Its outstanding floral border depicts rituals to be performed at the beginning of the Passover Seder.

Another type of decoration, unique to Jewish art, appears in the Spanish Bible with Masorah. This early, complete copy of the Bible from the 13th century, is decorated with the text of the Masorah (a collection of phonetical and textual comments) written in tiny letters (micrography) forming a large assortment of patterns.