An esoteric set of texts that emanates from the world of the Safed kabbalists, Tikkunei Shabbat is an amalgam of prayers, piyyutim (liturgical hymns), biblical verses and rabbinic texts whose recitation begins on Friday evening and continues throughout the Sabbath. Most of the piyyutim in Tikkunei Shabbat are attributed to Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (known by the Hebrew acronym, ARIZAL) whose name is encoded acrostically in many of them. The biblical verses comprise the entirety of the Song of Songs, traditionally believed to have been written by King Solomon, and are divided into sections to be read throughout the day. In similar fashion, the entire twenty-four chapters of the Mishnaic tractate of Shabbat are divided into three sections of eight chapters. Parts of the first two chapters of tractate Keilim are also included.
Tikkunei Shabbat was first printed in 1600. Composed by Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi Berukhim, a pupil of both Isaac Luria and another eminent Safed kabbalist Moses Cordevero (ReMaK) it called for the institution of an entire program of conduct and behavior designed to enhance the spiritual and mystical aspects of the Sabbath. In addition it listed the various texts to be recited. The new practice proved to be so popular that by 1641, editions of Tikkunei Shabbat included the various texts in their entirety, and the entire work was now usually ascribed on the title page to Isaac Luria. More than thirty editions appeared during the course of the seventeenth century alone.
Yet, even though these printed editions made it possible for the general public to acquire the small book of Sabbath prayers, religious songs and poems, and Kabbalistic customs, Tikkunei Shabbat was often reproduced as part of the revival of Hebrew manuscript production in eighteenth-century Central Europe. Court Jews, who played a prominent role in European commercial and cultural life but remained attached to their Jewish identity, often commissioned lavishly illustrated and sumptuously bound volumes from artist-scribes. Several dozen of these eighteenth century manuscripts of Tikkunei Shabbat emanating mostly from the Hapsburg Empire, are known to remain extant. However, manuscripts such as the one before us, whose origin lies outside this specific geographic area are much less common.
In addition to being part of the eighteenth century revival of Hebrew manuscript illumination, the present manuscript points to the equally rich tradition of folk-art decoration that flourished in the Southern parts of Germany and in the Eastern Jewish communities of Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine. With the disturbances and persecutions that pervaded Jewish life in the seventeenth century, many Jews migrated eastward bringing with them the distinctive Ashkenazic script found in this manuscript. In addition the ornamentation of this manuscript is strongly reminiscent of earlier medieval manuscripts of the Ashkenazic tradition. Borrowing liberally from motifs made popular in Eastern European synagogue architecture and paintings, this copy of Tikkunei Shabbat is replete with characteristic images of unicorns, lions, griffins and pelicans yet studiously avoids the depiction of human figures found in the Northern and Central European eighteenth century manuscripts of the same text. The drawing style of the present manuscript owes much more to the indigenous Jewish folk-art tradition of Southern Germany and Eastern Europe than it does to the prevailing traditions of contemporary art that pervade so many other manuscripts of this era.
A prominent example of this relationship is evident on the first page of the manuscript. Balanced delicately between two massive columns is a bejeweled crown, supported by rampant lions, themselves crowned. Emanating from either side of the central crown are floral elements, upon which are perched a pair of unicorns regardant; above the unicorns, at the very apex of the pyramid of beasts, a lion and a unicorn are locked in mortal combat, the unicorn's horn piercing the lion's mouth. This particularly striking image appears on the painted ceilings of two Ukrainian synagogues near Lvov, in Chodorów and Gwoździec. The images in both synagogues were created in the 1730s, likely by the same artists, Israel ben Mordecai Lisnicki and Isaac ben Judah Leib ha-Kohen, both from Jaryczów. Although both unicorns and lions can be found in a variety of artistic settings, this particular iconographic depiction of the two is unknown in any other context, in either Jewish or Christian art.
The confrontation of the lion and the unicorn, symbolic perhaps of the link between earthly and celestial forces, has been alternatively interpreted as being a harbinger of the messianic era, a notion that is well and truly suited to the kabbalistic texts of Tikkunei Shabbat, redolent with the concept of Shabbat as a foretaste of the world to come.
Eighteenth century illuminated manuscripts featuring the iconography characteristic of Eastern European folk art are exceedingly rare. The identification of such specifically localized imagery as is found on the present manuscript is rarer still.
Elliot Horowitz, "Odd Couples: The Eagle and the Hare, the Lion and the Unicorn," Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 11 (2004), pp. 243-58.; Marc Epstein, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature, Penn State Press (1997), pp. 96-112.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale