The Barcelona Haggadah is justly considered one of the most significant illuminated Hebrew codices, housed in the manuscript collection of the British Library. Created around mid-14th century, it is named after the coat of arms it features, which echoes Barcelona’s one.
An Iconographic Apparatus Intended for Children
At the time Barcelona represented a thriving centre of manuscript illumination while being home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. Although Jewish religion makes use of several types of prayer books, the Passover Haggadah seems to be the most ornamented and elaborated.
Interestingly, the fact that the story was intended to be narrated to children results in the use of a vivid iconographic apparatus. The illustrations, distributed throughout the codex, are part of a superbly decorated extensive cycle which exhibits exquisite insights into Jewish life of mid-14th century Spain. Furthermore, almost half of its leaves bear exquisite ornamental elements.
Key-role Played by Musical Instruments
Given its relatively imposing size, the manuscript was intended be used at the table in occasion of the family gathering known as the Seder.
It is worth noticing the significant role played by music both in the manuscript and in the community as it was used as means to draw closer Jews and Christians. The importance of and interest in music is reflected in the several illustrations depicting musical instruments throughout the manuscripts, in total 28.
The script used in the Barcelona Haggadah – written on 8 lines per page – is large and neat, possibly to make it more accessible to children.
The Barcelona Haggadah: a Long Life
The life of the manuscript was certainly long and interesting, for we know from some inscriptions lefts on its pages that it belonged to Shalom Latif of Jerusalem, who sold it to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459 for 50 ducats.
The Barcelona Haggadah seems to have been owned by an ecclesiastical figure in 1599, it was in the possession of Jehiel Nahman Foà in the 17th century and it was passed on to Mordecai and Raphael Hayyim, two members of the Ottolenghi family. Finally, British Museum bought it in 1844.