web analytics
September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
Apartment 758x530 Africa-Israel at the Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York

Africa Israel Residences, part of the Africa Israel Investments Group led by international businessman Lev Leviev, will present 7 leading projects on the The Israel Real Estate Exhibition in New York on Sep 14-15, 2014.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context


Plague of Locusts & Plague of Darkness (ca.1330) Tempera, gold, ink on parchment: Rylands Haggadah
Courtesy The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester, England

Plague of Locusts & Plague of Darkness (ca.1330) Tempera, gold, ink on parchment: Rylands Haggadah Courtesy The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester, England

From August 28 until the end of the exhibition on September 30 the pages depicting the Israelites Leaving Egypt, Pharaoh’s Pursuing Army and the Crossing of the Red Sea will all be on view. The strident nature of the Rylands Haggadah is again seen in Leaving Egypt with the emphasis on “The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 13:18). With the exception of Moses, Aaron and one man with a kneading bowl, each of the 12 men is armed with a sword, pike (a very long thrusting spear) or halberd (a battle ax mounted on a pike). As Epstein observes, this is “a nation of warriors.” Just below, Pharaoh’s Pursuing Army brings the narrative to a fever pitch with the mounted Egyptian soldiers (actually medieval knights) led by the Pharaoh right on the heels of the armed but fleeing Israelites. Moments later on the next page the entire army will be drowned.

The strident militancy continues on the opposite page depicting the Crossing of the Red Sea where, with the exception again of Moses, Aaron and perhaps 2 others, all 20 others are armed to the teeth, a “military Exodus” for sure. No women, children nor flocks, just an army marching forward while individuals point triumphantly at the three surrounding bands of Egyptian dead in the sea. Through the flowing waters we see them, eyes closed, some grimacing even in death, horses and arms sunken along with Pharaoh himself floating face up and his golden crown breaking through the right-hand ornamental border. It is an unabashed triumph for the Jewish people over the wicked Egyptians. And, considering that both in costume and mindset the Egyptians in this Haggadah represent contemporary Christians, clearly this is a Jewish art that expresses the tension between Christian rulers and Jewish subjects in the difficult years of 14th century Spain.

While there is much to be said for all the images of the plagues displayed earlier this year (the exhibition opened March 27); the effective beginning of the narrative cycle, the Burning Bush and the Return to Egypt, demands special attention especially in the attempt to place medieval Jewish Art in context. The curators observe, “In medieval Europe, where art was prized as a means of storytelling, Jewish life and history were often represented visually.” To contextualize the Rylands Haggadah they have placed in adjacent cases examples of Jewish subjects found in Christian medieval art. One shows the Battle of the Maccabees, here prefiguring the Crusaders similarly fighting to save the Holy Land. Two illuminated Bibles are presented: one with an image of Judith beheading Holofernes, an episode dear to Jews but not found in our Tanach, while the other features the martyrdom of Isaiah by being sawn in half. This episode is also non-textual but well known in both the Talmud (Yevamos 49b) and the Pseudepigrapha.

Another case features two illuminated leaves from the Postilla Litteralis of Nicholas of Lyra (1360-80). This extremely important and much copied biblical commentary attempts to harmonize Rashi’s commentary within a Christian perspective! The illuminations here show the arrangement of the various tribes encamped around the Tabernacle and the curtains of the Tabernacle itself. The Rylands’ image of the Return to Egypt presents another kind of surprising interaction with the surrounding Christian culture.

In the Book of Matthew, Joseph and Mary flee with their child Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod’s attempt to murder a presumed child redeemer. Some scholars see this passage as a deliberate attempt to link the early history of Jesus with Moses the Redeemer, specifically the verses of the return to Egypt of Moses, Tziporah and their two sons seen in Exodus 4: 20-26. The artist of the Rylands Haggadah (as well as the Golden Haggadah) seized upon this Christian appropriation of a Jewish text, in turn appropriating the Christian depiction to depict the original Jewish theme. The results are revelatory.

Flight into Egypt, (ca.1311) Tempera on panel by Duccio
Courtesy Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy

At the time of the creation of the Rylands Haggadah (ca. 1330) the visual motif of the Flight into Egypt had been well established and was ubiquitous. This subject depicts a female figure holding a child on a donkey, in profile, being led or followed by a male figure with a staff and is seen in major Italian works by Duccio (1311), Giotto (1306) and most notably a French Gothic illumination in the Book of Hours for Jeanne D’Evreaux (ca. 1320) currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters.

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 “Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Protest rally against Metropolitan Opera staging Death of Klinghoffer on 9/22 at 4:30 pm at the Met.
For Grass Roots Klinghoffer Protest 9/22, Jewish Establishment MIA
Latest Sections Stories

Three sets of three-day Yomim Tovim can seem overwhelming – especially when we are trying to stay healthy.

Plotkin-092614

Is a missed opportunity to do a mitzvah considered a sin?

Teens-Twenties-logo

The sounds and scents of the kitchen are cozy, familiar, but loud in the silence.

Baim-092614-Plate

Everyone has a weakness. For some people it is the inability to walk past a sales rack without dropping a few hundred dollars. For others, it’s the inability to keep their house organized.

His entire life was dedicated to Torah and he became a pivotal figure in the transmittal of the Oral Torah to the next generation.

When you don’t have anyone else to turn to… that’s when you’re tied to Hashem the closest.

While we all go to restaurants for a good meal, it is dessert, that final taste that lingers in your mouth, that is the crown jewel of any dining experience and Six Thirteen’s offerings did not disappoint.

Today, fifty years and six million (!) people later, Israel is truly a different world.

There will always be items that don’t freeze well – salads and some rice- or potato-based dishes – so you need to leave time to prepare or cook them closer to Yom Tov and ensure there is enough room in the refrigerator to store them.

In Uzbekistan, in the early twentieth century, it was the women who wore the pants.

This is an important one in raising a mentsch (and maybe even in marrying off a mentsch! listening skills are on the top of the list when I do shidduch coaching).

While multitasking is not ideal, it is often necessary and unavoidable.

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/rylands-haggadah-medieval-jewish-art-in-context/2012/08/09/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: