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Détail d'un rituel de prières avec Haggadah, Ferrare, 1520

From the BnF collection Italian Hebrew manuscripts

daily, starting from Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 11:00, until Sunday, September 22, 2019 - 23:59

In the museum’s permanent collection from 20 March to 22 September 2019, the BnF and the mahJ are showing a selection of Italian manuscripts exceptionally loaned by the BnF.

Spanning four centuries, these works come from regions and communities reflecting the diversity of Judaism in the Italian peninsula from antiquity and its renewal with the arrival of new groups from France and Germany in the fourteenth century, then, from the late fifteenth century onwards, from Spain and Portugal. Italy, then a mosaic of independent feudal seigniories, became a haven for Jews expelled from other countries, even if their situation deteriorated from the sixteenth century with the institution of the ghetto, initially in Venice in 1516 then throughout the peninsula. Yet this spatial segregation did not prevent a brilliant culture from flourishing and numerous exchanges with the surrounding Christian society.

Extremely diverse (prayer books, bibles, Talmudic commentaries, philosophical works by Jewish and Muslim authors, scientific treatises, marriage contracts), these religious, secular, scholarly and popular manuscripts illustrate the exceptional wealth of the Judeo-Italian production of the period. The overwhelming majority are written in Hebrew, Judaism’s sacred language and language of scholarly exchanges, but a few are in Yiddish, the language of Germanic origin spoken by the Ashkenazi Jews established in the north of the peninsula.

The decoration of the most ancient manuscripts is still steeped in the medieval non-figurative tradition: illuminated initials, arrangements of blocks of text and micrography. From the Renaissance onwards the development of imagery in small illustrations and frontispieces shows the stylistic influence of local schools of illumination and the great economic and cultural integration of Italian Jews who did not hesitate to have their manuscripts decorated by Christian artists. 

This exhibition marks the exceptional loan of the Modena Torah Ark, dated 1472, and the fifteenth-century Torah lectern by the Museo Nazionale dell’Ebraismo Italiano e della Shoah in Ferrara.

Due to their fragility, the manuscripts on display will be replaced by others on 18 June.  
The exhibition booklet includes a lexicon of technical terms.


Curators : Laurent Héricher (BnF), Claire Decomps (mahJ)

Exhibition design

Victor Torossi and his team


Exhibition organised by the BnF and the mahJ



Salle italienne

Rates and reservation

10 € / 7 € / 5 €