The NY Jewish Museum Offers Digital Visitors Opportunity To View Rare Illuminated Manuscripts From Bodleian Library

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Crossing Borders features a superb selection of some sixty Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic manuscripts from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, one of the world’s richest collections of manuscripts and printed books related to medieval European Jewish culture. The manuscripts, many of them exquisitely illuminated, illustrate the fertile exchanges among Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the fields of religion, art, science, and literature. Included is one of the Bodleian’s greatest treasures: the magnificent Kennicott Bible. Many of the works in the exhibition are on view in the United States for the first time.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries, The Jewish Museum is offering its digital visitors two fascinating opportunities to learn about and see high resolution images of the manuscripts.

The University of Oxford owns one of the most important collections of medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the world. The Bodleian Library, established by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602, is filled with treasures, from the magnificent Kennicott Bible to works in the hand of Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher and rabbinic authority. This presentation showcases a selection from the Bodleian’s superb holdings within the larger context of the history of medieval Christian Hebraism—the study by Christian scholars of the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic sources—which first received full expression in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. As Protestantism took hold in the sixteenth century, interest in the collecting and study of Hebrew texts was revived, propelling the formation of the Bodleian’s outstanding Hebraica collection.

The cross-cultural focus of Crossing Borders is very much in the spirit of  Thomas Bodley’s founding vision for his library. Today, as in his time, this approach transcends ideological and religious boundaries to create a broader framework within which the rich legacy of Christians, Muslims, and Jews can be understood and appreciated.

For the first time ever, all 922 pages of the magnificent Kennicott Bible and its binding will be available online. The Kennicott Bible (1476) is the most lavishly illuminated Hebrew Bible to survive from medieval Spain. Digital visitors may browse through these high resolution images, either viewing a selection of the illuminations or choosing a particular chapter or page. The Kennicott Bible was photographed especially for the exhibition and the web component by noted photographer Ardon Bar-Hama.

Through the exhibition microsite, visitors will be able to see and zoom into images of nearly 100 pages from 41 of the 52 manuscripts in the exhibition and selected images from several printed books and paintings. Audio clips excerpted from the exhibition audio guide accompany selected manuscript pages. The manuscripts and artworks are organized into nine themes: From Roll to Codex; Medieval Hebraism; Islamic Decorative Motifs; Shared Motifs in Christian and Hebrew Books; The Kennicott Bible, a Medieval Masterpiece; Fables from India to Spain and Beyond; Christians, Muslims, and Jews Copy Euclid; Collectors of Hebrew Books; and Sir Thomas Bodley and Queen Elizabeth I. An essay, The Middle Ages Illuminated, by the exhibition’s curator Claudia Nahson places the works in context, tracing the story of cultural interaction among Christians, Muslims, and Jews during the Middle Ages, as seen in these rare and precious volumes.

Before the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century, books were unique works of art as well as repositories of knowledge. The Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin manuscripts in this exhibition, most on view in the United States for the first time, are a meeting-place of medieval cultures. Produced in Europe and the Mideast, these manuscripts tell a story of intellectual exchange and cooperation among Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Jews were highly mobile within these regions, whether by choice, economic necessity, or political coercion, and thus were conduits of learning.

This exhibition features over 60 works – Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin manuscripts – the majority of which have never been seen in the United States. Several paintings and printed books are also on view.

The Jewish Museum is presenting Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries from September 14, 2012 through February 3, 2013.


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