London, British Library, Add. Ms. 14761

Barcelona Haggadah Facsimile Edition

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A Most Precious Book for Children

The Barcelona Haggadah is recognised as one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in the collections of London’s British Library. It dates from the middle of the fourteenth century, and is named after the heraldic shield it bears, which resembles the arms of Barcelona. When the manuscript was created, the Jews of Aragon and Catalonia formed one of the largest communities in Europe, and Barcelona was home to a flourishing centre of manuscript illumination, linked to the court and influenced by Italian and French styles. Of all categories of Jewish prayer book, the Passover Haggadah tends to be the most extensively and richly decorated. The narrative, the rabbinic elaboration, the family meal, the symbolic foods and the fact that the story is told to children all provide added incentives for colourful illustration.

A Glimpse in the world of Spanish Jews

The size of the manuscript indicates that it was intended to be used and enjoyed at the Passover table on the eve of the festival, for the family gathering known as the Seder. The Barcelona Haggadah is outstanding for the rich decorative and representational illuminations scattered throughout the text: no fewer than 128 of its 322 pages are beautifully ornamented. Its fanciful figures and pictorial scenes provide fascinating insights into Jewish life in mediaeval Spain. For instance, music and the arts flourished in Barcelona and its environs, and the Jewish community was proud to be fully involved.

Indeed, until the forced conversion of the Jewish population of Barcelona in 1401, Jewish musicians played a vital role in drawing the Jews and Christians closer together. It is therefore not surprising that a lively interest in music is evident throughout the manuscript: in all, twenty-eight different instruments appear in the illustrations. More intimate details, such as depictions of the meal, take us straight into a Jewish home of the period, while the synagogue scene reflects fourteenth-century conditions and traditions. The large, clear script, probably designed to be read more easily by children, was written on eight lines per page. The text of the Haggadah occupies 180 pages; the remaining leaves contain liturgical poems and prayers for the other days of the Passover festival.

The Fortunate Owners of the Masterpiece

A manuscript as splendid as this must always have been treasured by its owners, some of whom we are fortunate in being able to trace through inscriptions on its pages. We find that it was sold by Shalom Latif of Jerusalem to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459 for fifty gold ducats, and that it therefore left Spain before the expulsion of the Jews. The manuscript also bears the signature of an ecclesiastical censor: ‘Visto per me Fra. Luigi del Ordine de San Dominico 1599’ (Seen by me, Brother Luigi of the Order Saint Dominic 1599.) Similarly, we have evidence that it was owned by Jehiel Nahman Foà in the seventeenth century and later by Mordecai and Raphael Hayyim, two members of the Ottolenghi family. The British Museum bought it in 1844.

The composition of the Book

The Barcelona Haggadah contains the Haggadah, Laws for Passover, piyyutim and Torah readings for the festival of Passover according to the Spanish rite (Folios 9-151) and poems, Aramaic Targumim and Aramaic piyyutim according to the Provençal custom.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Barcelona Haggadah": The Barcelona Haggadah facsimile edition, published by Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1992

The Barcelona Haggadah

London: Facsimile Editions Ltd., 1992

  • Commentary (English) by Schonfield, J.; Beit-Arié, M.; Avrin, L.; Roland-Smith, D.; Schmelzer, M.; Loewe, R.; Snir, Y.
  • Limited Edition: 550 copies
  • This facsimile is complete (full-size color reproduction of the whole original document).

The Barcelona Haggadah has been acclaimed as one of the finest facsimiles in publishing history. The publishers, not content merely to reproduce the appearance of the original, recreated the aura of the manuscript by including every detail, no matter how minute. The facsimile is designed to be used and enjoyed for many generations to come, thereby preserving and making accessible a rich cultural heritage. From its inception, the Barcelona Haggadah facsimile was planned as a lavish and accurate copy. The vellum of the original manuscript was measured for its average weight and opacity, and a special uncoated, neutral pH paper was milled to simulate the feel of the original. Several years of research and development culminated in the production of a paper that exactly reproduces the opacity, texture and thickness of the vellum on which the manuscript was written. The paper, made by a small Alpine paper mill, is similar to that used in the Kennicott Bible and Rothschild Miscellany facsimiles and has been widely recognised as the closest likeness to vellum ever achieved. Crucial to the production of a fine facsimile is the quality of the original photography. This was undertaken by Laurence Pordes, Senior Photographer at the British Library, who expertly lit and photographed the manuscript using a large-format plate camera and a specially made batch of Kodak Ektachrome film. The facsimile is printed in up to twelve different coloured inks, demanding great care and attention by the master printers, colour separators and our own quality-control team. The colour separators combined laser scanning equipment with painstakingly precise hand work in order to make the colour separations necessary for the first proofs. These proofs were then compared with the original manuscript in London by the separators, the publisher and the printer. Corrections were made and new proofs were produced and compared yet again to the original. This process was repeated up to four times for each page to ensure an exact likeness prior to printing. The facsimile is printed by offset lithography in up to twelve inks. Each printed page is exactly the same size as the original. Every single sheet is printed under the close and critical supervision of the publishers, who moved to Italy for the duration of the printing and personally approved each page. The scribe made minute holes down the sides of each folio between which he would rule lines for his script. These tiny holes, referred to as pricking, were often trimmed off before the manuscript was bound, but are reproduced in the facsimile where they still exist. As gold leaf cannot be adequately simulated by printing, it was decided to reproduce the raised burnished gold in the original by laying metal leaf by hand to achieve the richness of the fourteenth-century gilding. Craftsmen applied metal foil leaf to each of the 105 pages where gold is found, using a unique process developed especially for these facsimiles, resulting in raised gold as in the original. Special metallic powder is applied to all the illustrations that contain powdered gold or silver in the original. Much of the silver in the manuscript has tarnished, so yet another new technique was developed to simulate oxidised silver. Every copy is accompanied by a certificate bearing the seal of The British Library, verifying the number of the facsimile and the size of the edition. The number of each facsimile is discreetly yet indelibly blind-stamped on the inside of the back cover using steel dies. he commentary volume has been designed to be used in conjunction with manuscript facsimile. The entire text of the manuscript has been translated. The commentary volume is edited by Dr Jeremy Schonfield (Mason Lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies; Lecturer at the Leo Baeck College, Centre for Jewish Education, London).


The blind-tooled binding is in fine brown calfskin over boards with rounded corners. The book block is sewn by Italian craftsmen over handmade head and tail bands. The quire formation of the manuscript has also been scrupulously observed. The accompanying commentary volume is produced to an equally high standard, printed on Magnani mould-made paper and bound in a full calfskin binding. While every effort is made to match the commentary volume binding to that of the facsimile as closely as possible, we do use natural skins and there may be slight differences. The title of the commentary volume is blocked in gold on the spine. The facsimile and commentary volume are presented in an elegant hand-marbled slipcase.

Used and new from

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