Golden Haggadah

Golden Haggadah Facsimile Edition

Barcelona (Spain) — Second quarter of the 14th century

Tales of the Exodus from Egypt and instructions for the Seder on the eve of Passover: one of the earliest Spanish Haggadot, decorated with 56 miniatures on a shimmering gold leaf background

  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

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Golden Haggadah

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 the earliest example 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
Sephardi square 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
Biblical picture cycle; Haggadah and piyyutim (liturgical poems) for the Passover Seder
Previous Owners
Fra Luigida Bologna
Rabbi Joav Gallico
Eliah Rava
Camillo Jaghel
Renato de Modena
Giuseppe Almanzi
Adolphus Asher

Available facsimile editions:
The Golden Haggadah Facsimile Edition
Eugrammia Press – London, 1970
Limited Edition: 520 copies
Detail Picture

Golden Haggadah

The Unleavened Bread

Appearing beneath a decorated panel with the word “matzah” written in large golden letters, this giant matzah has been inserted into the body of text. The Islamic geometric patterns of interlacing and white vine motif with red and blue backgrounds exhibit a Moorish influence in the manuscript, which is otherwise decorated in the High Gothic style with Italianate influences. A stone wall with a heavy wooden door is depicted in the center of this splendid composition.

The Golden Haggadah
Single Page

Golden Haggadah

Scenes from Exodus

The first of these scenes, in the upper-right image, depicts the last of the ten Plagues of Egypt: the death of the first born, the death of Pharaoh’s first born, and a funeral procession for the first-born of the Israelites. To the left, the Israelites are depicted coming out of Egypt, prompting Pharaoh to command a final pursuit of the Israelites to the Red Sea.

Finally, in the lower-left corner, Pharoah and his army are shown drowning in the Red Sea as Moses and the Israelites escape to safety. All of these miniatures are very finely executed with diapered, diamond-patterned gold leaf backgrounds. Great attention to detail has been paid to the fall of folds of the figures’ clothing, their facial expressions, and their expressive gestures.

The Golden Haggadah
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Golden Haggadah

Eugrammia Press – London, 1970

Publisher: Eugrammia Press – London, 1970
Limited Edition: 520 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Bezalel Narkiss
Language: English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) 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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