The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination Hardcover – May 9, 2011
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 3.55 pounds
- Hardcover : 344 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0300156669
- ISBN-13 : 978-0300156669
- Product Dimensions : 8.75 x 1.25 x 11.25 inches
- Publisher : Yale University Press (May 9, 2011)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,125,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The author examines the illustrations of four medieval Haggadot of the fourteenth century: the Birds' Head Haggadah, the Golden Haggadah, the Rylands and the "Brother" Haggadot. His innovative analysis oversteps the frames of traditional art history and takes the reader on an intellectual voyage through the realm of medieval Jewish-Christian dialogue. Marc Epstein points out how the Jewish authorship of these Haggadot used the visual medium to express theological and social ideas, and to respond to historical events. Reading the book, one discovers that book illumination and visual culture in general is able to open a new window and offer a fresh perspective on Jewish-Christian coexistence in the Middle Ages, and to shed light on certain aspects that are not palpable through written sources.
This book is much more than a monograph of four Haggadot. Just as his previous work, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish art and Literature (Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), Marc Michael Epstein's recent book is the foundation of a new methodology for studying Jewish visual culture as a creative and responsive medium which is able, and was indeed used, to express genuine Jewish ideas, rather than as a merely imitative or second-rate field compared to Christian art. Thanks to its clear and literary style, the book speaks to a much wider audience than a small circle of experts on Jewish art. Great enjoyment for the mind and the eyes!
Of course, the book isn't perfect. The text was a bit hard to follow when trying to match it with the appropriate plates/figures. And I have to point out one issue that I don't think Epstein underscored nearly enough. The problem with illuminated manuscripts (and with history in general) is that those who've left records of the past, especially when it comes to art, tend to have been the elites of society. These haggadot were done for patrons, who may not have been representative of the Jewish community. They may have been outliers (the wealthiest? the most assimilated?) or an exclusive small, circumscribed group of people. The average medieval Jew may have had little contact with such Jews and such haggadot may not have resonated with them, not to mention seemed heretical. As a recent analogy, how representative was Schoenberg's atonal "biblical" music of the average 20th century Jewish mindset or how much did your average American Jew appreciate it? Nonetheless, these haggadot were commissioned by a particular class at a particular point in time, and it's valuable in itself to see what attitudes of theirs may have been conveyed through these texts.
Thanks to Epstein, I know now that Art Spiegelman and Steven Spielberg's portrayals of Jews as mice have nothing on the Birds' Head Haggadah. Totally need to bring in the ornithologists and comic book artists next time, Marc, to do a thorough analysis of the trippy imagery.