Adam S. Cohen

title.none: Kogman-Appel, Illuminated Haggadot (Adam S. Cohen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.019 08.01.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Adam S. Cohen, University of Toronto,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Kogman-Appel, Katrin. Illuminated Haggadot from Medieval Spain: Biblical Imagery and the Passover Holiday. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. 464. $99.00 (hb) 0-271-02740-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.19

Kogman-Appel, Katrin. Illuminated Haggadot from Medieval Spain: Biblical Imagery and the Passover Holiday. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. Pp. 464. $99.00 (hb) 0-271-02740-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Adam S. Cohen
University of Toronto

Modern study of medieval Jewish manuscripts goes as far back as 1898, with the publication of a monograph devoted to the (now increasingly famous) Sarajevo Haggadah, a fourteenth-century illuminated book for the Passover liturgy made in Spain. [1] This might also suggest that study of Jewish art of the Middle Ages has kept pace with more general developments in the field of medieval art history. Yet as Katrin Kogman-Appel sketches so cogently in the introduction to her pathbreaking book, scholarship on such late medieval manuscripts as the Sarajevo Haggadah has been fairly myopic, focusing on questions of sources in and continuity with the Late Antique period, stylistic considerations, and the definition of "Jewishness" in Jewish art. That many of these questions mirror older scholarly trends in the treatment of medieval manuscripts is no surprise, but what is remarkable is that Kogman-Appel's book offers the first major synthetic attempt to situate the Sarajevo Haggadah and other Spanish haggadot (l) in their own historical and art-historical contexts. She is certainly not the first to treat the material from a contextual perspective, as a glance at the encyclopedic footnotes will indicate; the gems tucked away in these notes will serve all future readers as a gateway to this rich material. Rather, what distinguishes this book is its scope and the impressive balance the author strikes between assessing each manuscript on its own terms and simultaneously offering an analysis of the broader cultural and artistic context of the group of manuscripts as a whole.

In chapter one, Kogman-Appel introduces the seven books that are the focus of her study, each one a Passover book with an introductory cycle of images depicting episodes of biblical history.[2] Here she provides the reader with ample information about size, codicology, textual variants and material value to support her reasonable conclusion that the manuscripts differ sufficiently to warrant individual examination, despite attempts by previous scholars to lump them into various groups or filiations based on style or iconography. Kogman-Appel then rehearses the palaeographic, textual, and stylistic arguments for the dating and localization of each manuscript, which enables her to situate the entire group in Catalonia and Aragon in the first half of the fourteenth century, during the reigns of Jaime II and Alfonso IV.

Each of the next three chapters is essentially a study of a pair of related haggadot, beginning with a consideration of the aptly named Golden Haggadah and British Library, MS Or. 2884, a manuscript with enough iconographic and compositional similarities to the former that it has been referred to as the "Sister Haggadah." Kogman-Appel is not satisfied, however, to accept these similarities casually, but through a meticulous examination reveals not only the respective differences between the books but also the different artistic processes that generated them. Kogman-Appel tackles a question fundamental to all medieval art: how does one account for the fact that certain works look similar enough to be somehow "related," yet dissimilar enough to preclude the likelihood of direct copying? She thus embeds her consideration of these Jewish manuscripts in a broader debate, and the results have methodological implications for all art historians. In short, she offers the term "formal congruence" to describe the connection of an individual work with a potentially large and geographically far-flung array of related works. After considering such notions as recensions, model books, motif books, and iconographic guides to account for these formal congruences, Kogman-Appel explores the probability that artists generated their images mostly by depending on their own memories of objects and motif collections. Although it is difficult to prove this in any particular case, her proposition is sound and would adequately account for the sometimes tantalizing yet nebulous relationship among works of art. In this case, the artists of the Golden Haggadah, who were master craftsmen in their own right, drew on a combination of images and remembered images transmitted from Italy (cf. a marble panel at Sta. Restituta, in Naples), and France (cf. the Bibles moralisées), most probably through motif collections.[3] (There was little basis for the Golden Haggadah's imagery in local Spanish Christian cycles.) The maker of Or. 2884, who was perhaps both scribe and artist, subsequently saw the Golden Haggadah but did not have it in front of him when he made his own book. Changes are due to the different compositional formats of the two books and the fact that this individual was not, evidently, a professional artist; his own interests led him to alter and expand the narrative in various ways. A parallel consideration of the captions added to the miniatures also reveals a process in which memorized texts were reconstituted in new, but familiar, compositions.

In her treatment of the other haggadah pairs (Rylands and BL, Or. 1404, Sarajevo and Bologna-Modena), Kogman-Appel similarly takes the reader through careful analyses that shed light on the individual manuscripts and their relationships to each other. Or. 1404, for example, had direct access to Italian (but not French) models, and Rylands was then copied in the same workshop from the earlier haggadah. Kogman-Appel is convincing when she argues that the more accomplished artistic production of the Rylands Haggadah does not necessarily mean that it had to have been executed first, a salutary warning to medievalists about the relationships of quality and precedence. The sumptuous Sarajevo Haggadah was indebted to French art (though I found her comparisons to the Vienna recension of the Bibles moralisées more convincing than those to the St. Louis Psalter); its "sibling," Bologna-Modena, was likely made for a member of the middle class (as was BL, Or. 2884). Once again, Kogman-Appel shows a real sensitivity to the practical process of book-making when she demonstrates how changes in layout and format resulted in compositional and iconographic alterations from one manuscript to the next.

In the final chapter and conclusion to part one of the book, Kogman-Appel returns to the broader question of the relationship of Jewish to Christian art. She does so by examining the manuscripts themselves and the historical circumstances in which they were made. In her discussion of alterations to the Christian cycles that were the source of some of the haggadot imagery, Kogman-Appel forcefully demonstrates meaningful deviations from typical Christian iconography, as, for example, in the avoidance of depicting an anthropomorphic God. What is interesting is that despite a certain commonality among all the haggadot in avoiding and altering particular themes, the manuscripts reveal that artists tackled this problem in different ways; very few, if any, specifically Jewish conventions were established. The question of the religious identity of manuscript artists-were they Christian or Jewish?-has long been a topic of great debate, and scholars have been forceful in advocating their respective positions. Kogman-Appel herself thinks there is no reason not to accept the probability that these haggadot were painted by Jewish artists, and she rehearses various arguments to indicate ways that Jewish artists and certainly Jewish patrons would have had access to Christian art. The Barcelona law of 1326 forbidding Jews to trade in Christian books with pictures is just one bit of evidence that Kogman-Appel cites in her portrait of the historical milieu. In general, and this is the more important point, the acculturation, if perhaps not the integration, of Jews in early fourteenth-century Catalonia opened the doors for interaction with Christian art.

What really concerns Kogman-Appel, however, is not so much who painted as whatwas painted and why, and it is to these questions that she turns her attention in part two of the book. Once again, she situates her work in a longstanding scholarly discussion, this time about the impact of midrash (legal and homiletical exegesis) on Jewish art, and her findings go against the accepted wisdom: Kogman-Appel has convinced this reader, at least, that there was no continuous visual tradition of midrashic interpolations stretching from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Of course, midrash did inform medieval Jewish art, and the author's long catalogue of haggadah images with midrashic content makes this abundantly clear. Furthermore, Kogman-Appel justifies her reliance on midrashic texts to interpret the haggadot by reminding us, in opposition to some who would foreswear the need to look at texts, that the medieval Jews who produced and used these books were themselves steeped in textual literacy. Nevertheless, Kogman-Appel keeps the images front and center and reveals how the artists manipulated their cycles by consciously avoiding or significantly altering images from the standard iconographic repertoire that were particularly pregnant with Christian meaning, e.g., Melchizedek, Abraham and the Three Angels, the Sacrifice of Isaac. Unlike some contemporary Jewish texts, these cycles do not seem to be overtly polemical, but they are more subtle in dealing with Christian ideas through a strategy of avoidance. Other scholars, notably Marc Epstein, have claimed to find more overtly polemical messages in the Jewish pictures, and this issue will likely continue to be a fertile area of scholarly debate for years to come. [4]

Identifying the patrons of the Spanish haggadot has also bedeviled scholars. Kogman-Appel begins her final chapter by reminding us that "Jewish" is not a particularly helpful category; instead we need to focus on the specific circumstances that account for fourteenth-century art made by and/or for Jews in Spain, which are not the same as those that conditioned art made by and/or for German Jewish counterparts, and certainly not the same as the Late Antique situation. Kogman-Appel carefully reconstructs the intellectual and religious debates current in medieval Spain to underscore the importance of the midrashic turn in the teachings of Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 11941270) and his followers and its impact on the Spanish haggadot. Most important was their chronological and typological understanding of Jewish history, a perspective that underpinned the inclusion of biblical cycles in the Passover haggadot, books that would not otherwise be logical places for such imagery. Kogman-Appel's magnificent analysis of the Sarajevo Haggadah and its emphasis on a Jewish historical consciousness is not just a reading of one manuscript's pictorial program, but also an evaluation of the role of art as a window into the strategies of Jews as they grappled with the broad shift from Islamic to Christian culture in Spain. Consequently, Kogman-Appel is inclined to see the patrons and users of these books not among the "secular" courtier class,[5] but more likely among the aristocratic scholars who were engaged in the kinds of intellectual and religious debates that have left their traces in the books' imagery. Kogman-Appel is surely correct in stating that "courtier" is another category that has been oversimplified in the past, and she is also right to remind us that the haggadot are not of uniformly high quality, suggesting that the patrons likely come from different social strata within the Jewish community. Although I am for the most part persuaded by her theory that the haggadot as a whole fit better into a scholarly than a courtly milieu, the lack of any hard evidenceand the possibility that some Spanish Jews might belong to more than one categorysuggests that ascertaining the patrons and audiences of the books remains an area for continued investigation.

In the end, however, Kogman-Appel superbly draws out the overarching issues in the picture cycles of the fourteenth-century Spanish haggadot. At the time of their creation they represented the introduction of the first medieval pictorial histories and indeed the first known Jewish figural art in almost six hundred years. Kogman-Appel makes a compelling case that it was the awareness of such cycles in illuminated Christian manuscripts coupled with an antagonism to polemical Christian theology (and activity), that spurred their creation. As books used in the home, the haggadot and their pictures provided an opportunity for some Jews, those with the means and the intellectual inclination, to express ideas about the dangers of allegory and rationalism in Judaism, and to develop a sense of historical consciousness that was especially meaningful during the Passover holiday. Whether or not we can identify the specific owners of the seven Spanish haggadot, I think they would be pleased to see their books continuing to generate the kind of serious discussion and analysis that was surely part of their original function. Scholars of medieval culture, and art historians in particular, owe a debt of gratitude to Katrin Kogman-Appel for her fundamental study of this material, which surely sets the benchmark for future explorations of the intersection of Jews, Christians, and art in the Middle Ages.

[1] On that work, and its implications for modern art history, see Margaret Olin, "Jewish Art Defined: From Bezal'el to Max Liebermann," in eadem, The Nation Without Art: Examining Modern Discourse on Jewish Art (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 331, and Eva Frojmovic, "Buber in Basle, Schlosser in Sarajevo, Wischnitzer in Weimar: the Politics of Writing about Medieval Jewish Art," in eadem, ed. Imagining the Self, Imagining the Other: Visual Representation and Jewish-Christian Dynamics in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 132.

[2] The seven are: the Golden Haggadah (London, British Library, MS Add. 27210), British Library, MS Or. 2884, the Sarajevo Haggadah (National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Prato Haggadah (New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, MS Mic. 9478), the Bologna-Modena Mahzor (two fragments split between the Biblioteca Universitaria, MS 2559 and the Biblioteca Estense, cod. A-K. 1 22Or. 92), the Rylands Haggadah (Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS heb. 6), and British Library, MS Or. 1404.

[3] I was not in agreement with every individual comparison Kogman-Appel proposed, but overall her method and conclusions are sound. Part of the problem is that many of the images reproduced in the book are so small that it is impossible to make out the details necessary to judge the validity of certain comparisons. Nonetheless, Penn State Press once again must be congratulated for the quality of this publication and above all for their willingness to include 16 color plates and 168 black and white figures in the book.

[4] Marc Epstein, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Literature (University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), and "Another Flight into Egypt: Confluence, Coincidence, and Cross-Cultural Dialectics of Messianism and Iconographic Appropriation in Medieval Jewish and Christian Culture," in Frojmovic, ed. Imagining the Self , 3352.

[5] Michael Batterman, "The Emergence of the Spanish Illuminated Haggadah Manuscript," Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 2000, and "Bread of Affliction, Emblem of Power: the Passover Matzah in Haggadah Manuscripts from Christian Spain," in Frojmovic, ed. Imagining the Self , 5390.