The Ashkenazi Haggadah represents a very interesting example of Hebrew manuscript from Southern Germany, possibly Ulm. The codex, also known as Londoner Haggadah, was written and illuminated in the second half of the 15th century and 19 elegantly illuminated decorated borders, 23 decorated initials, and 1 historiated initial.
The Ashkenazi Haggadah and its Provenance
The manuscript bears the name of Ashkenazi Haggadah on the account of its contents; indeed, the manuscript contains the Jewish text of the Haggadah which sets the order of the Passover Seder.
The attribute Ashkenazi comes from the geographical provenance of this specific text, for there never was a standardized text so each local community developed its own with the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi being the most famous variants of medieval times.
In particular, the Ashkenazi community belonged to the area of Eastern Europe and the text transcribed in the manuscript is a transcription of the text created by Eleanor of Worms (1176-1238), a Hebrew from Germany and one of the major members of Hasidei Hashkanazi.
The remarkable iconographic apparatus is the work of Joel ben Simeon Feibush, whom we know as he inscribed his name in the colophon of the Ashkenazi Haggadah. His work features 19 miniatures located along the borders in colors and gold, 23 decorated initial-word panels and initials.
Another interesting feature is the rendition of the ten plagues in 10 medallions on the margin of f. 17. On 19 pages we find the presence of a commentary along the margins, resembling the carmina figurata in ink and colors.
Life of the Manuscript
Not much is known about the life of the Ashkenazi Haggadah nor about its commissioner, what is certain is the name of its first owner R. Jacob Mattathias, who is mentioned in the colophon on fol. 48. The manuscript was later purchased in April 1844 by Payne Foss and was at some point sold to the British Library, where the codex is currently treasured.
Written in Hebrew, the manuscript features an Ashkenazi square and Ashkenazi semi-cursive script, which after long debate has been attributed to a scribe identified as Meir Jaffe.
Fortunately, unlike many medieval manuscripts, the Ashkenazi Haggadah still features its original binding with dark brown leather, blind tooling, and remains of clasps.
- Images courtesy of the British Library