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Press release

Rare Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts to Be Shown during Passover at The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters

Passover Manuscripts

Exhibition Date:  Beginning April 10, 2017 
Exhibition Locations:  
The Met Fifth Avenue, Medieval Treasury (Gallery 306) and
The Met Cloisters, Treasury (Gallery 13)

The signature foods of Passover will be celebrated in a display of four rare Hebrew manuscripts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, beginning April 10. For three months, the Farissol Haggadah, Graziano Haggadah, and Gallico Siddur will be on view at The Met Fifth Avenue, while the Prato Haggadah will be shown at The Met Cloisters. Ranging in date from 1300 to 1515, these four illuminated books offer a glimpse of the Passover tables of medieval and Renaissance Jews in Spain and Italy. Each manuscript includes lively depictions of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs), foods required for the Passover seder—the ritual meal that commemorates the exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt. The matzah references the unleavened bread the Israelites took with them as they left Egypt in haste, while the maror serves as a reminder of the bitter life of slavery that the Israelites had endured.

All four manuscripts are loans from the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. The installation is part of a longstanding partnership between The Met and the JTS Library.

The Haggadah is the book used at the seder. Although the essential components of the text were established in the second century, it was not until the Middle Ages that the Haggadah was first made into an independent, illustrated book for household use. Wine stains in the manuscripts on view make clear that the books were at table as families celebrated the holiday.

At The Met Fifth Avenue

The illustrator of the Graziano Haggadah, made around 1300 in what is now Spain, celebrated the humble matzah by means of elaborate ornamentation in gold and expensive pigments of red, blue, and green. On the facing page, the red root and leafy top of the maror suggest a radish. The manuscript known as the Farissol Haggadah, written in 1515 by the Bible commentator and geographer Abraham Mordecai Farissol in Ferrara, Italy, features two charming drawings in ink of men in Renaissance attire. One man holds the unleavened bread and the other an abundance of leafy greens. The Gallico Siddur (or prayer book) was made in 1487 in Florence, Italy. The seder-related illustrations depict a hand holding a round matzah and another holding the maror—in this case, a neat spray of herbs.

At The Met Cloisters

The Prato Haggadah will be shown at The Met Cloisters in the Treasury (gallery 13), near other European manuscripts of the same period intended for personal use. It will be open to a drawing of yet another local interpretation of maror—in this case, an unidentified vegetable (possibly an artichoke) of monumental proportions, offered by two attendants.

At both Met locations, a special handout devoted to medieval traditions related to matzah and maror will be available free of charge during Passover and can be obtained at the information desks. It will include early 16th-century recipes for matzah.

Also of Interest, on the Website

Featured on the Museum’s website in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History are two essays on Jewish art—“Jews and the Arts in Medieval Europe” and “Jewish Art in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium”—written by Barbara Drake Boehm, the Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters, and Melanie Holcomb, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. Relevant works in the Museum’s collection are listed, along with suggestions for further reading and additional resources.

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March 31, 2017

Image from Graziano Haggadah. Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on parchment Spanish, ca. 1300 Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York (L.2016.6.51)

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