Friday, May 08, 2009

Non-Jewish Iconography in Hebrew Books

As we have discussed on numerous occasions, Hebrew books contain a fair amount of non-Jewish iconography and imagery that is of non-Jewish origin.  See, for example, here, here, here and here.  Of course, Marvin Heller's article on Mars and Minerva appearing on Hebrew title pages, Marvin Heller, "Mars and Minerva on the Hebrew Title-Page," in Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 98:3, Sept. 2004, reprinted in Heller's collected articles Studies in the Making of the Early Hebrew Book (which will be reviewed separately in the very near future), is the starting point for much of this discussion. There is an article in this week's Jewish Press that also discusses this issue.  The article is available here. 

It is, however, worth noting a few things.  First, the article discusses the hare hunt motif that is found in various Jewish books, most notably in the Prague 1526 haggadah and the Mantua 1560 haggadah.  This illustration appears in manuscripts as well, and in the Darmstadt Haggadah, it is not a hare hunt but a deer hunt.  The deer, of course, is a more well known Jewish motif and thus would obviate the issue of representing Jews as a hare.  That said, it is unlikely that the deer hunt in the Darmstadt haggadah can be used to explain the hunting motif as it is likely that the illustrations in that haggadah are of non-Jewish origin.  Indeed, Gutmann notes that the illustrations accompanying this haggadah have no connection to the text and are likely non-Jewish. 

Additionally, it is worth noting,with regard to the Prague 1526 haggadah and its illustrations, there is a book that is devoted to explaining the history and meaning of the Prague 1526 haggadah, Charles Wengrov, Haggadah and Woodcut, Shulsinger Bros., New York, 1967.  Wengrov discusses all the illustration in this, seminal, haggadah.  Additionally, he discusses the history of the various woodcuts, both in their forms in the Prague haggadah as well as the motifs they employ.  Wengrov's discussions encompass both printed and manuscript haggadahs.

Returning to non-Jewish iconography, a most radical but intriguing theory related to this topic can be found in Ruth Mellinkoff, Antisemitic Hate Signs in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts from Medieval Germany, Center for Jewish Art -Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1999.  Mellinkoff offers a completly different theory for the bird's heads in the famous Bird's Head Haggadah. Mellinkoff opines that in reality these are not bird's heads but bird's beaks on human heads.  Thus, she offers that the bird's beaks are substitutions for large or beak-like noses.  She explains that in reality these illustrations are the work of a non-Jewish illustrator who was attempting to subtly use well know anti-Semitic tropes like large noses and, in some illustrations, pigs ears.  See id. pp. 11-29, 35-37.  Aside from the Bird's Head Haggadah, Mellinkoff provides other Hebrew manuscripts that apparently have similar anti-Semitic signs as well. 

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