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Prayer book

Ferrara, 1512

Hebrew manuscript, ink, gouache and gold leaf on vellum, 12.7 x 17.7 cm

On permanent loan from the Musée de Cluny, Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris


Livre de prières, Ferrare, 1512

Like many prayer books, in addition to prayers for feasts and blessings, this one includes the Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), the treatise of the Talmud studied on shabbat. Its colophon (the text at the end of a book giving information regarding its production) states that it was completed at Ferrara in 1512 by Moses son of Haim Aqrish, a refugee from Spain. Particularly prolific, he produced seven manuscripts copied between 1499 and 1527, principally in Ferrara, a city where the dukes of Este welcomed many Jews from the Iberian Peninsula.

Although, in keeping with the scribe’s origins, the style of the script is distinctly Sephardic, the book’s making and its extremely refined decoration are typically Italian, and the illuminations are highly reminiscent of the style of the Florentine artist Boccardino the Elder. The Hebrew text of the first frontispiece is framed by matt gold borders adorned with plant motifs and medallions with very tarnished silver filigree decoration, with the effaced coat-of-arms of the book’s owner in the middle at the bottom. The title of each section is written in gold letters on a scarlet ground with tracery. The first word of each prayer is calligraphed in gold letters in a cartouche, sometimes flanked by a vertical band with a portrait in a medallion imitating an antique cameo. The volume’s spine is decorated with green and red floral motifs.

The last page was signed in 1600 by the censor Dominico Irosolimitano, a converted Jew charged with verifying all Hebrew books.

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