Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Prague Haggadah
About the Prague Haggadah
     The contents of the Passover Haggadah comprises the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the vision of the vision of the future redemption from all exiles.  This double nature is reflected in its literary construction, its illustration additions, songs and commentaries.  Our ancestors became slaves in Egypt: G-d broughts us out of this slavery, through many miracles, to be free to settle in Israel. The Haggadah explains that without the miracle of this great deliverance, we, the descendants would still be slaves in Egypt. It is therefore a drama, which is reenacted annually on Passover eve.  Part of the text presents the ritual, while other parts include prescriptions for the actions and the reasons for them.  Artists who illustrated the Haggadah through the ages, depicted the slavery and the Exodus from Egypt, and added illustrations of the visions of the redemption, with creative and artistic impulse. The lively illustrations expressed the sentiments of freedom and joy felt by every Jew.  The text and illustrations had also a practical purpose to provoke questions from the children and thus give the father an opportunity to relate the story of the Exodus.

     The first printed Hebre2w book after the invention of printing, came off the press in 1475, and only a few years later, c. 1482 the Passover Haggadah was printed in Spain.  The Prague Haggadah was the first Haggadah to be printed in Central Europe after the Jews were expelled for Spain.  As the first printed illustrated Haggadah in Central Europe it was used as a prototype for many illustrated editions of the Haggadah printed later in Europe.  The Prague Haggadah is the first illustrated Haggadah to be preserved in its entirety, and till nowadays it is considerered as one of the most beautiful editions of the Haggadah. It isn't the first illustrated Haggadah, but it is the first to be executed with a care for aesthetic taste and feeling, apparent not only in the attractive woodcuts but also in the fine lettering, splendid initials and the general layout. mainly because it was competting with hand written Haggadahs.   The printer was Gershom Cohen, who reports that with the help of his brother Grenem Katz, finished the Prague Haggadah on the last day of the year 1526.  The artist who made the woodcuts was a man named Hayyim Shachor he signed four of the blocks with the hebrew letter shin It isn't know if he did all the blocks or had help from other unknown  artists.   The printers were competting with the artist who were still illuminating Haggadahs which is one of the reasons for the quality of printing and illustration.  There are four groups of woodcuts; the decorative words, the full page borders, the wide sceans, the marginal figures.  However, the artist economized on the number of woodcuts by reusing quite a number of them more than once.  Traditional Jewish subjects, motifs and iconography were fused with the more fashionable styles and layouts of contemporary religious illuminations and regional views, according to personal modern taste of the artist.  the Illuminated Haggadot before the invention of printing.  Illustrations of the symbols of the Passover holiday are found in fragments of Haggadot dating from the 9th and 10th ceenturies.  For example, we have the stylized representations of matza and maror in fragments of the Haggadah found in the Cairo Geniza.  Actual illustrated haggadot were created, apparently, only after the Haggadah became the independent composition.  The earliest ones seem to date from the 13th century, although no illustrated Haggadah earlier than the 14th century has come down to us.  At that time, the high point of theGothic style, when profound social and economic changes took place and urban centers began to prosper, workshops were established specializing in the production of books, especially religious ones.  This was the great period of Books of Hours- prayer books for the private use of the nobility and of wealthy bourgeois.

     Wealthy Jews imitated this fashion and began to commission illuminated manuscripts.  The Haggadah was particularly suitable for this purpose, in that it was smal and meant for home us.  In fact, there were more Haggadot written and illustrated before the 16th century in the communities of Spain, Germany, France and Italy than any other Hebrew manuscripts except for the Bible. in medieval Haggadot, traditional Jewish subjects and motifs are generally rendered in the style of pictures in Gentile manuscripts, except in the case of details describing specifically Jewish Elements (matza, maror and the like) or depictions in decidedly popular style.  At the same time, different kinds of illuminated Haggadot emerged in the different countries, the three main types are recongnized; Spanish, German, and Italian  Although all there share many traits, they are distiguishable by various local characteristics.

     The  Spanish Haggadah is generally composed of three parts;  the text, biblical miniatures taking up entire pages, and a collection of piyyutim (liturgical poems) to be sung in the synagogue.  The few illustrations are mainly of biblical scenes taking up whole pages.  Among extant Spanish Haggadot we should mention the
Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, 14th century), the Kaufmann Haggadah (Spain, end of the 14th century), and the Golden Haggadah (spain probably Barcelona, c. 1320)

     The "German" Haggadot originated in Germany and France. They are decorated with illuminations in the margins around the text.  In an early group of these Haggadot, amoung them the Dragon Haggadah (France 13th century) and the "birds' Head Haggadah" (south Germany, c. `1300), biblical scenes and depictions of customs appear in the margins together with detailed illustrations of the text itself.  A later group of Haggadot, the Yahuda Haggadah (south Germany, mid 15th century) among others, contains a continous series of biblical isllustrations with no direct relation to the text.  An exception in this group is the Darmstadt Haggadah ( Germany first half of the 15th century)  which contains very few illustrations of the text and customs, and no biblical illustrations at all..

       The third group is that of the Italian Haggadot.  Evidence suggests that these Haggadot are perhaps the earliest and it is possible that they served as a prototype for the Spanish and German types.  However, the earlier specimens were not preserved and those that have come down to us are relatively late.  The were created during the 15th century and apparently were influenced by German Haggadot in that they are decorated only in the margins of the text. TH migrations of German Jews (often violently expelled for example Nuremberg 1498) to Italy brought about the development of a new type of Italo-German Haggadah in which the style of the illustrations is Italian and the layout and script German.  The structure of the Haggadah in the "Rothschild Manuscript 24" (c 1470) is German, but the illuminations are in the style of the School of Ferrara.. Many manuscripts belonging to this group were produced in the workshop of Joel ben Simon and by the artists whom he influenced. 

     The first Jewish printing houses were established at the end of the 15th century.  The flourishing of the art of printing during 15th century.  The flourishing of the art of printing during the 16th and 17th centuries produced printed Haggadot accompanied by woodcuts which continued the tradition of the illuminated manuscripts.  However, alongside the printed Haggadot, the tradition of decorating and iluminating manuscripts did not die out, and, in fact, it  flourishs even today. Two examples the Torah is always hand written and on the other hand it is very popular to hand write Katubot, Jewish marriage lic.

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