Rylands Haggadah

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

Spain β€” 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

Facsimile Copy Available!
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(under 1,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. 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 β€œcross-pollination” that occurred between Jews and Christians during the Middle Ages.


Ca. 1330
Hebrew Square Script
13 full-page miniatures, 12 marginal vignettes, dozens of ornamented headpieces and pen-flourish initials
Texts with instructions for the Passover Seder as well as annotated poems for the Passover week and the Sabbath before Passover
Previous Owners
James Ludovic Lindsay
Earl of Crawford
Enriqueta Rylands

Available facsimile editions:
Rylands Haggadah – H. N. Abrams – Hebrew MS 6 – John Rylands Library (Manchester, United Kingdom)
H. N. Abrams – New York, 1988
Detail Picture

Rylands Haggadah

Influences from Christian art

On the one hand, the Haggadah serves as a valuable source for the study of medieval Jewish art, but it also shows Christian influences. This miniature exemplifies the religious, cultural and artistic exchange between Jewish and Christian artistic creation in the period of the High Middle Ages. The scene shows Moses returning to Egypt with Tzipora and her two sons. While Moses leads the animal, Tzipora sits on the donkey with the two children. The scene is based on the flight from Egypt from the Old Testament, when Mary rides on the donkey with the baby Jesus, who is led by Joseph with a staff. This miniature can thus be seen as an appropriation of Old Testament iconography and shows the mutual inspiration of religions during the Middle Ages.

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

Rylands Haggadah

The first Passover lamb

The impressive Haggadah is particularly captivating because of its rich decoration. In addition to the ornate initials, floral motifs and fine drolleries of grotesques, the Ryland Haggadah contains a picture cycle illustrating the Book of Exodus in elaborate miniatures. The miniatures, set in magnificent gold and coloured frames, are each divided into different zones showing different events of the Book of Exodus.
This miniature shows the so-called Pesach or Passcha or Passa festival, which is one of the high festivals of the Jewish calendar. The festival, which lasts several days, commemorates the exodus from Egypt and thus the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery (Exodus 12). On the evening before the Passover, as on the first Passover night, a lamb is slaughtered.
In the upper section of the picture this essential part of the Passover meal, the slaughter of the lamb as well as the preparation over the fire can be seen. The blood is used to coat the doorposts and the lintel of the houses. The lower section of the picture then shows the meal itself, which is to take place in the circle of the family. The miniature is captivating here because of the detailed depiction, such as the four wine glasses that are drunk symbolically for the liberation from enslavement in Egypt.

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

#1 The Rylands Haggadah

H. N. Abrams – New York, 1988

Publisher: H. N. Abrams – New York, 1988
Binding: Red cloth binding with gold embossing
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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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