The Ashkenazi Haggadah is a large illustrated manuscript for the celebration of the Passover Seder. Created in southern Germany in the middle of the fifteenth century, it reflects the style of northern Gothic in its pen flourished letters and blind-tooled gilding but also anticipates the Northern Renaissance in its stocky, whimsical figures inhabiting the margins. The decorative splendor is found in its initials and word panels, beautifully rendered with classicizing motifs.
The text is a collection of various texts compiled for the celebration of the Passover Seder including poems, scripture, hymns, and rabbinic literature. The rather large pages are arranged in a single column of Ashkenazi Square and semi-cursive scripts over twelve lines.
The illustrative program includes depictions of the Passover rites and roundels of the Ten Plagues. The Ashkenazi Haggadah is a charming manuscript full of character and individuality that attests to centuries of tradition upheld and observed by the Jewish diaspora in Europe.
For the Celebration of Passover
The text of the Haggadah is used for the celebration of the Passover Seder during which the Jewish people remember their slavery in Egypt and deliverance to the Promised Land. This rite is observed by Jewish people throughout the world. The narrative of the festival promoted the creation of texts to guide and, in this case, also illustrate the celebration. This medieval Gothic manuscript serves as a guide for the feast as practiced in southern Germany in the mid-fifteenth century.
Margins Abounding with Illumination
In this Haggadah, the primary illustrative program is textual, with major divisions demarcated by elaborate word panels where both the ground and contrasting letters are filled with patterns, often of vegetal quality. Perhaps the best example is that on fol. 19r with Green Men breathing out swirling acanthus leaves around letters decorated with a textile-like floral pattern.
Figural illustrations demonstrating aspects of the Passover rite are added in the margins along with carmina figurata often in the shape of mythical creatures. A colophon names the illuminator as Joel ben Shimon Feibush, whose clumsy but charming figures have stocky proportions and who excelled at embellishing letters with classicizing motifs.
Jewish Diaspora in Medieval Germany
The Ashkenazi Haggadah originated in southern Germany, perhaps Ulm, and its contents reflect the German rite. Different Jewish communities throughout celebrated the Passover in different ways for social and geographic reasons. This text is an important survival because it records the practices of the Jewish people in Germany in the late Middle Ages.
The book was created for Jacob Mattathias, but its further story is lost until it was purchased for the British Museum through Payne & Foss booksellers in 1844.
Pre-1600 brown full leather binding with the front blind-tooled with narrative scenes of Adam and Eve(?), an angel (Michael?) spearing a Demon(?) and an armored knight confronting a Dragon. The back is blind-tooled with linear geometric panel designs. The spine is plain and unmarked.