Rylands Haggadah

Rylands Haggadah – H. N. Abrams – Hebrew MS 6 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)

Spain — Ca. 1330

Expressive faces, articulating hands, and an ever-warm gaze even during the harshest events in the Book of Exodus: one of the most magnificent surviving Haggadot with full-page miniatures, initials, floral motifs, and fine drolleries

  1. This splendid Haggadah containing the Sephardic rite for the Passover Seder was created ca. 1330 in Catalonia

  2. A 13-page miniature cycle depicts the Book of Exodus and ends with the roasting of the first Passover lamb

  3. The margins are populated by playful, often satirical centaurs, archers, animals, and grotesques

Rylands Haggadah

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Rylands Haggadah

The Rylands Haggadah is not only one of the most richly adorned Haggadot to survive today but is also a precious source for the study of medieval Jewish art in general. Aside from the eleven highly artful full-page miniatures illustrating the events of the Book of Exodus, the manuscript also features decorative initial-word panels, floral motifs, and is distinguished by its very fine drolleries depicting various grotesques and hybrids. Created in Catalonia, Spain ca. 1330, it contains the Sephardic rite for the Passover Seder and includes a depiction of a Passover celebration. Finally, the manuscript is also a marvelous example of the religious, cultural, and artistic exchange that occurred between the Jews and their Christian neighbors during the High Middle Ages.

Rylands Haggadah

Containing the Sephardic rite for the Passover Seder, this splendidly illuminated Haggadah is one of the finest examples of medieval Jewish art to survive today and is also a testament to the artistic cross-pollination that occurred between Jewish illuminators and their non-Jewish counterparts. The Rylands Haggadah originated in Spanish Catalonia ca. 1330 and is adorned by a 13-page miniature cycle depicting the Book of Exodus from Moses and the Burning Bush to the Crossing of the Red Sea and the roasting of the first Passover lamb as well as numerous decorative initial-word panels and drolleries. These centaurs, archers, animals, and grotesques are also some of the finest examples of the playful, often satirical drolleries that were popular in medieval art.

A Masterpiece of Jewish Art

The Rylands Haggadah has 57 vellum leaves that are richly adorned with gold and a palette of primary colors, primarily red and blue, making it one of the most splendid Haggadot in existence, which also made it a highly coveted work of art. Aside from being one of the finest Haggadot in the world, it is also a precious source for the study of medieval Jewish art in general. The manuscript was modelled on the so-called Barcelona Haggadah from the British Library but its gorgeous imagery is even more graphic with gory descriptions of the suffering of the Egyptians as they are afflicted by one plague after another. It was acquired in 1901 by Enriqueta Rylands (1843–1908), a British philanthropist and founder of the John Rylands Library in Manchester, where the masterpiece is housed today.

Artistic Cross-Pollination

One of the most fascinating aspects of the manuscript is the evidence of influences from Christian art, much of which originated from stories in the Old Testament, which is to say Jewish themes. For example, in the Book of Matthew, Joseph flees to Egypt with Mary and the Baby Jesus after being warned by an angel that King Herod will seek to kill their son and is referred to in art to as the Flight into Egypt. This is generally seen as a parallel to the story of how Moses returned to Egypt with Tziporah and their two sons in Exodus 4:20-26. The image of Mary holding her child while riding on a donkey led by Joseph with a staff was already ubiquitous in the early 14th century and has been adapted in the Rylands Haggadah. Here the Return to Egypt depicts Tziporah on the donkey holding one child in front while her second child clings to her back as Moses guides them along. The miniature is thus an appropriation of a Christian image that was itself based on the adoption of a Jewish text. This finely crafted image perfectly epitomizes artistic/cultural exchange and “cross-pollination” that occurred between Jews and Christians during the Middle Ages.

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Rylands Haggadah

Commentary: 1 volume by Raphael Loewe
Languages: English, Hebrew
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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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