25 leaves (14 x 10 1/2 in.; 355 x 268 mm). Illustrated manuscript on parchment with protective paper interleaves. Decorated title page with architectural frame; seven text illustrations. Folio 7 loosely held. Minor staining, as expected, f.16v. Marbled endpapers. Contemporary straight grain red morocco, with inset panels of straight grain navy morocco, the whole elaborately gilt; central diamond shape gilt cartouches, with title and binder's name gilt stamped, smooth spine, slight wear at head and foot.
Collection of Chimen Abramsky
With the invention of printing from movable type in the 15th century, the medieval tradition of creating decorated and illuminated Hebrew books declined, with more and more books being produced in print and fewer and fewer being written by hand. Centuries after the art of the handmade illuminated book all but disappeared in general society, some influential Court Jews (Hofjuden), and other patrons of the new class of Jewish bourgeoisie in German lands, began to commission luxurious individual Hebrew manuscripts.
The proliferation of these beautiful hand made Hebrew books in the eighteenth century provides a strong rationale to those who characterize the illuminated, illustrated and decorated works that appeared in those years as being the product of a "renaissance of Hebrew manuscript production." With the Emancipation of European Jews in the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century however, the production of illustrated and decorated Hebrew books once again declined rapidly. Very few manuscript Haggadot were produced in this period, and those that were, were primarily created for and by Jews living in Islamic Lands (Morocco, Iraq, and Egypt). In Europe, the printed haggadah was by far more popular and the number of inexpensive popular printed editions increased steadily. As a result, the discovery of a hitherto unknown and magnificently produced manuscript haggadah from this period, by a scribe known to his contemporaries as "the greatest Jewish calligrapher of the day," is of exceptional importance.
The magnificent manuscript is written in both black and brown inks on exceptionally high quality parchment, with each folio guarded by paper interleaving. The words of the haggadah are accomplished in elegant square Hebrew letters, provided with punctuation marks, while the commentary of Simeon ben Zemah Duran, Ma'amar Afikoman, is beautifully executed in a Sephardic semi-cursive hand, popularly referred to as Rashi-script. Finally, the translation of the text of the haggadah is rendered in mashket, the unique orthography of Yiddish and Judeo-German handwriting. The transition between the three separate Hebrew lettering styles is seamless and there is at least one instance (f.23v) of Meseritch's use of German fraktur as well.
In addition to its ornate and elegant neo-classical architectural title page, the manuscript features seven text illustrations. Each of the four sons is depicted in separate miniatures, standing before a Passover table where wine, matzah and a small dish (perhaps containing maror) are arranged. The appellations of their character--wise, wicked, simple, and oblivious--are emblazoned on the tablecloths while, opposite each of the sons is the father, who has before him a Passover haggadah. These four tableaus expertly convey the body language between father and son. The scribe-artist Eliezer Zussmann Meseritch has carefully characterized each of the sons by means of gestures and poses which have effectively created a new iconography for this classic Passover motif. The following two illustrations, the Parting of the Red Sea and an image of King David, are more familiar to us from earlier haggadot. It is with the final illustration, however, that Eliezer reprises the strong neoclassical architectural lines that he used to such great effect on the title page. His depiction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is magnificent and majestic, a fitting coda to a brief yet bold artistic program.
The scribal versatility and artistic proficiency of Eliezer Sussmann Meseritch in the present manuscript ranks this haggadah among the very finest of his extant works, housed in several leading manuscript collections. The list of his manuscripts includes the following codices:
1. Kiddush Levanah, Frankfurt a/M, 1823 (Frankfurt, Stadt und Universitätsbibliothek Oct. 209)
2. Passover Haggadah, Hamburg, 1829 (Private Collection—the present manuscript)
3. Midrash Konen, Frankfurt a/M, 1833 (NY, YIVO, Ms. E 88)
4. Tekhunat Shamayim, Frankfurt a/M, 1841-1842 (Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms. 2062)
5. The Charlotte von Rothschild Haggadah 1842 (Braginsky Collection)
6. Chronicles of the Persecutions of 1096, Frankfurt a/M, 1847 (Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Ms. 50)
7. Same (Moscow, Günzburg Ms. 1395)
8. Same (London, Montefiore Ms. 475).
9. Midrash Elleh Ezkera, Frankfurt a/M, 1847 (New York, YIVO Inst. Ms. E 94)
10. Sefer Mitzvot Katan [Hashlamoth] (Paris, Bibl. Nat. Ms. Heb 1480)
Finally, it should be mentioned, that this manuscript haggadah was recognized as something special even at the time of its initial binding. The richly gilt straight-grain leather in shades of red and blue is sumptuous and expensive. The quality of the boards were also a source of great pride to the bookbinder. In an unusual departure from custom, this bookbinder took took the extra step of embossing his own colophon on the rear boards. Ensconced in a gold bordered diamond-shaped cartouche, he proudly tooled the following epithet: Eingebunden fun Avraham Yakobsohn in Hamburg, "Bound by Abraham Jacobson in Hamburg."
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