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8 / Writing

Prato Haggadah, Folio 11r
Prato Haggadah, Folio 11r
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, Spain
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1300
Material Ink, gesso, paint, and gold leaf on parchment
Dimensions H: 8 ¼ in. (21 cm.), W: 5 7/8 in. (14.9 cm.)
Location The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary

expert perspective

Sharon Liberman MintzCurator of Jewish Art, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Additional Resources

Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Melanie Holcomb. “Jews and the Arts in Medieval Europe.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jewm/hd_jewm.htm (June 2008).

Castaño, Javier, et al. The Jews of Europe in the Middle Ages. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2005.

Mintz, Sharon Liberman, et al. Precious Possessions: Treasures from the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2001.

“The Prato Haggadah: An Illuminated Medieval Manuscript in the Making (April 7–July 7, 2006).” The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary exhibition Web site. http://www.jtsa.edu/prebuilt/exhib/prato/index.html.

Soltes, Ori Z. Our Sacred Signs. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2005.

“Special Treasures from the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.” The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Web site. http://www.jtslibrarytreasures.org.

Prato Haggadah, Folio 11r

» Unknown artist, Spain

This illuminated manuscript, produced around 1300, is one of the oldest surviving Haggadot from Spain.

The Haggadah is a book of readings that contains biblical, talmudic, and midrashic texts, as well as liturgical poetry. It is used during the seder, the ceremonial dinner held at the beginning of the Passover holiday. While Jewish law forbids the decoration of Torah scrolls, medieval religious and secular works were embellished. The most frequently illuminated text was that of the Haggadah, possibly because it was used primarily at home.

The image seen here is the recto (or front) side of the eleventh folio of the manuscript known as the Prato Haggadah. The artist has adorned the parchment sheet with bright, rich colors and gold-leaf accents. The borders of the page feature whimsical plant motifs and imaginative animal hybrids. The central panel at the bottom, supported by two barely visible, squatting male figures, contains the first word of the passage of text that continues on the next page. It is written in large letters and embellished with gold leaf. A small, stylized image of several buildings is depicted on top of the panel. This represents the city of Goshen in northern Egypt, mentioned in the text of the preceding passage to the right of the illustration.

The Prato Haggadah is written in the Sephardic script characteristic of Hebrew manuscripts from Iberia. It is unusual in that it omits the prayers and instructions associated with the Passover meal. Some scholars have concluded that Spanish Haggadot that lack this text were created for use in public synagogue services, rather than for private use at home.

Medieval Spanish society was home to a rather cosmopolitan mix of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The cultures and manuscript illumination traditions of all three groups influenced each other. Some Hebrew manuscripts made for use by Jews were decorated by Christian illuminators. Spain’s Jewish community was expelled, however, in 1492. Many of the displaced Spanish Jews relocated to Italy, taking their books with them. Later additions to the text and an inscription by an Italian censor in 1617 suggest that this was the fate of the Prato Haggadah.

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