56 miniatures with shimmering gold leaf backgrounds illustrate the Biblical events of Passover and the performance of the Seder

Golden Haggadah

Spain — Second quarter of the 14th century

Golden Haggadah

Golden Haggadah

Spain — Second quarter of the 14th century

  1. The Hebrew manuscript was created ca. 1320-30 in Catalonia and appended in 17th century Italy

  2. Miniatures are presented in sets of four that are to be viewed in a particular order

  3. It is one of the earliest Spanish Haggadot to feature a full picture cycle from Genesis and Exodus

Golden Haggadah

Alternative Titles:
  • Goldene Haggadah
  • The Golden Haggadah
  • Seder Haggadah Shel Pesach
The Golden Haggadah
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The Haggadah is the book used in Jewish households during the Seder feast on Passover Eve to celebrate the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian enslavement as described in the Book of Exodus. This particular manuscript, the so-called Golden Haggadah, was copied and illuminated ca. 1320-30 in Catalonia, north east Spain. The manuscript takes its name from the 56 miniature paintings at the beginning of the book that depict scenes from the story of Passover as well as depicting the Seder itself, set against gold leaf backgrounds that have been imprinted with patterns and the Hebrew text was written on vellum pages in a square Sephardi script.

Golden Haggadah

The Golden Haggadah is a Sephardic Hebrew manuscript originating from the region of Catalonia ca. 1320-30, which was then appended with additional folios during the 17th century that are adorned in the style of the Italian Renaissance. Its name derives from its gorgeous gold leaf backgrounds with imprinted diamond patterns that adorn the 56 magnificent miniatures illustrating events from the books of Genesis and Exodus in addition to depicting the Seder as it was practiced in medieval Spain. The text consists of a copy of the liturgy used during the Seder service of Passover that guides participants through the ritualized meals. This manuscript is considered to be one of the one of the earliest examples of an illustrated Spanish Haggadah containing a complete image cycle from Genesis and Exodus, in addition to being a splendid work of art in its own right.

The Golden Miniatures

Although the style of the art is distinctly Gothic, elements of Romanesque and Islamic art can also be found, a nod to the multicultural nature of Spanish society in the 14th century. Nonetheless, the artists appear to have been inspired by such splendid manuscripts are the Morgan Crusader Bible and Psalter of St. Louis. Each page has four miniatures, which should be viewed in a particular order starting with the top right picture, followed by the top left image, then the lower right image, and lastly, the lower left miniature. Blue frames with arabesque patterns surround the miniatures. Nearly three centuries after the manuscript was first created, it travelled to Italy where an additional 15 folios were added in the early 17th century, which includes additional illustrations in the style of the Italian Renaissance. The first section of the manuscript depicts events ranging from Adam naming the animals to the song of Miriam. Second, the steps taken during the preparations for celebrating Passover are illustrated, including a depiction of a dragon drinking wine in addition to other important objects like the matzah and bitter herbs. Finally, a selection of 100 Passover piyyutim liturgical poems is presented with decorative initial panels.

A Mysterious Masterpiece

Neither the identity of the scribes and illuminators nor that of the original owner are known and the first few centuries of the manuscript’s existence are a mystery aside from the fact that researchers have been able to deduce that work originated in Catalonia ca. 1320-30. There is also evidence that it is the work of two hands: one artist using standardized faces but working in a graceful manner with a balanced color palette, and a second artist distinguished by a more coarse but energetic style. 101 leaves of fine vellum were used to create the manuscript, indicating a wealthy and discerning patron. The manuscript was likely taken to Italy in 1492 when the Spanish Jewry was faced with the choice of conversion or banishment. The earliest record of ownership comes in a note dated to 1602 indicating that it was given as a wedding present to the daughter of Rabbi Joav Gallico of Asti, including a page with the Gallico coat of arms. The Golden Haggadah eventually found its way into the possession of Joseph Almanzi (1801-60), an Italian Jewish bibliophile and poet, and was acquired in 1865 along with the rest of his collection by the British Library, where it remains today.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Goldene Haggadah
The Golden Haggadah
Seder Haggadah Shel Pesach
Size / Format
202 pages / 24.7 × 19.5 cm
Origin
Spain
Date
Second quarter of the 14th century
Language
Script
Rashi script
Illustrations
14 full-page miniatures depicting a sum of 71 biblical scenes; 26 marginalia; Numerous decorated and zoomorphic letters; Additionally 15 folios with 17th century illuminations
Content
Haggadah and piyyutim (liturgical poems) for the Passover Seder
Previous Owners

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Golden Haggadah“

The Golden Haggadah
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The Golden Haggadah

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Limited Edition
520 copies
Commentary
1 volume by Bezalel Narkiss
Language: English
More Information
Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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