web analytics
March 6, 2015 / 15 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

Crossing Borders: Masterpieces from the Bodleian Library


Tripartite Mahzor (14th century) “King Girded With Might”
Courtesy Bodleian Library & Jewish Museum

Tripartite Mahzor (14th century) “King Girded With Might” Courtesy Bodleian Library & Jewish Museum

Rambam, Commentary on the Mishnah, Temple diagram
Courtesy Bodleian Library & Jewish Museum

One of the most exciting manuscripts here is the Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah Nezikim and Kiddushin that is open to a diagram of the Temple facing the text. It is thought to be an autograph copy from 1168. While diagrams in the text of the Mishnah are not unheard of, nonetheless to see the Rambam’s autograph text next to an image used to help explicate the actual layout of the Temple is a revelation. Everything about the Rambam summons the primacy of text and intellectual conceptualization. And yet here the Rambam does a drawing to explain the text!

This and many other manuscripts in this section validate how integrated text and image was in the Middle Ages. We see the visual approximations of Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple in the commentary on the Bible by Nicholas of Lyra (Paris 1400), another by Richard of St Victor, as well as a Hebrew version of Rashi on Ezekiel. Additionally there are visual explorations of the exact form of the Temple Menorah and the arrangement of the tribal camps in the wilderness.

The exhibition is wonderfully curated into clear sections and subsections. Within the sphere of Islamic Influence is a Christian Bible in Arabic and a Quran displaying superb illuminated carpet pages. Nonetheless, in this section the Kennicott Bible overwhelms the surrounding manuscripts. Created in Corunna, Spain in 1476, it is a masterpiece of Jewish illumination combining Islamic and Christian motifs. Notably bereft of narrative illustration, the decorative elements are breathtaking. Dogs chasing hares with myriads of birds, foliage, gold leaf and Islamic arches, the text is constantly surrounded by visual agitation and stimulation. Delicate pinks, earth colors and vibrant blues dominate with sensitive touches of gold leaf. As beautiful as the two open facing pages are, one hungers to explore the rest of the 922 page manuscript. And the Jewish Museum has responded by creating a scanned version of the entire manuscript visible in the gallery and online. It is breathtaking and must be seen at www.kennicottbible.org. The Sefer Mikhol, a grammatical treatise that is included in this Tanach, is a masterpiece of Islamic-style illumination with page after page of different architectural motifs surrounding the text. All of the books of Tanach are punctuated with decorative grotesques tantalizingly echoing the narrative structure. This manuscript alone could consume a visitor for many hours.

Kennicott Bible (1476) Sefer Mikhlol
Courtesy Bodleian Library & Jewish Museum

“How does Hebrew book production reflect a relationship with the non-Jewish world?” The Bodleian catalogue answers that it was close, even, very close. In the words of Piet van Boxel: “they display coexistence, cultural affinity as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors.” The complexity of Jewish interaction with surrounding cultures is well explored here as well as the singular nature of Jewish manuscripts. The catalogue contrasts Latin manuscript production of the codex in the 2nd CE (i.e. a book as opposed to a scroll) with the Hebrew adoption of the codex in the 9th century. But once adopted, the Jews created codex manuscripts privately commissioned for public use that became luxury objects conveying social status and emulating the aristocratic wealth of non-Jews.

The exhibition “Crossing Borders” depicts a medieval Jewish world in which indeed many borders are crossed. While at times these images and cultural norms may make us uneasy, upon closer examination they inevitably tell us something new and revealing about our heritage and unique vision. They also point to a cultural attitude we could well learn from. The polyglot medieval culture these Jews found themselves in is in many ways terribly familiar to our own world. And in their engagement with this alien and yet fascinating culture, they made some of the great masterpieces of Jewish visual culture.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Crossing Borders: Masterpieces from the Bodleian Library”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran’s Zarif Paints Iran as a Lamb, Israel as the Lion
Latest Sections Stories
Glimpses-logo-NEW

The ship’s captain apparently respected the Friedenwalds’ strict adherence to halacha because he allowed them to use his cabin for davening and other religious observances.

Yarden Merlot

Bottles of wine accompany the Pesach storytelling – each glass of wine represents the four expressions used by G-d in describing the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.

Schonfeld-logo1

There is a point that many parenting books miss: children do more for us than we do for them.

Brigitte was a nine-year-old girl when Islamic militants launched an assault on a Lebanese military base and destroyed her home.

The husband needs to make some changes!

Purim is a fantastic time for fantasies, so I hope you won’t mind my fantasizing about how easy life would be if kids would prefer healthy cuisine over sweets. Imagine waking up to the call of “Mommy, when will my oatmeal be ready?”… As you rush to ladle out the hot unsweetened cereal, you rub […]

‘Double Gold’ awarded to 2012 Yarden Heights wine & 2011 Yarden Merlot Kela Single Vineyard.

One should not give the money before Purim morning or after sunset.

The mishloach manos of times gone by were sometimes simple and sometimes elaborate, but the main focus was on the preparation of the delicious food they contained.

One of the earliest special Purims we have on record was celebrated by the Jews of Granada and Shmuel HaNagid, the eleventh-century rav, poet, soldier and statesman, and one of the most influential Jews in Muslim Spain.

Jews, wake up! Stop educating the world and start educating yourselves.

The lessons conform to the sensitivities and needs of the Orthodox community…

The program took on special significance as it marked not only the first anniversary of Rebbetzin Kudan’s levayah but also the 27th yahrzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, a”h.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/crossing-borders-masterpieces-from-the-bodleian-library/2012/11/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: