Joel ben Simeon Illustrating the Washington Haggadah

The Washington Haggadah is one of the most important illustrated Hebrew manuscripts preserved in an American public collection. A Haggadah is the book used at the Passover seder, the ritual meal that commemorates the exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt, and indeed, the margins of the Washington Haggadah are alive with illustrations of medeival Jews preparing for and participating in the seder. With captivating images in tempera and gold on parchment, the Washington Haggadah bears the date January 29, 1478, and the signature of the renowned scribe and illuminator Joel ben Simeon. The exhibition The Washington Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context offers a strong testimony to the vitality of visual arts in Jewish history.

In her examination of the life of Joel ben Simeon, Katrin Kogman-Appel contextualizes Jewish cultural life in fifteenth-century Central Europe. She then delves into the illustrations that brighten the pages of the Washington Haggadah, considering the odd, the unlikely, the elegant, the comic, the devout, and the historic alike. She considers where in Ben Simeon's career the Washington Haggadah appeared, and what makes it unique even among his own works.

Katrin Kogman-Appel, Evelyn Metz Memorial Research Chair in Art, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel; introduced by Melanie Holcomb, associate curator, Department of Medieval Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among nearly twenty thousand Hebrew books in the Library of Congress, the Washington Haggadah is of unique importance as a work of art. Its unprecedented presentation at the Metropolitan Museum inaugurates a series of loans, each of which will focus on a single, illuminated medieval Hebrew manuscript, that will take place over the next three years in the Main Building's medieval art galleries. Each loan will be set in the context of related treasures from the Museum's collection.

Learn more about the Washington Haggadah at the Met:

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