From Oppression to Redemption: A Reexamination of Illuminated Sephardic Haggadot in Thirteenthand Fourteenth-Century Spain
Chianello, Maria K.
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Chianello, Maria K.
This thesis examines the scholarship of one era of Jewish history, thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain, through the lens of the illuminated Haggadot that were produced during that period. This type of Haggadah, beautifully decorated with narrative biblical scenes and non-narrative decoration, did not exist as an independent book, with or without illuminations, before the thirteenth century, despite its significant role in the family Passover seder. Scholars seek to understand the circumstances in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain that prompted Jewish patrons to commission these expensive books. Past scholarship traces the iconographic and stylistic sources of the imagery in the illuminated Sephardic Haggadot but does not consider the social, political, theological, or cultural context of these manuscripts, nor the meaningful story they have to tell about Jewish culture from this period. However, three recent scholars, Katrin Kogman-Appel, Marc Michael Epstein, and Michael Batterman, do examine the illuminated Spanish Haggadot, in part, as sources of cultural and historical information. The present study summarizes and critiques their recent works to assess how successfully their approaches expand our understanding of these unique manuscripts and the medieval Spanish culture in which they were produced. My thesis concludes by setting forth avenues of approach that deserve more attention in the analysis of the illuminated Sephardic Haggadot. The impact of anti-Semitism in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain on the production of illuminated Haggadot is particularly crucial to unlocking their mysteries. The situation for Jews in this period was precarious; taking into account the anti-Jewish laws, propaganda, and works of art as well as the Christian populace’s hatred of Jews is necessary to unveiling the specific agendas of the patrons who commissioned the illuminated Haggadot. Only with a fresh outlook on Jewish art scholarship and a thorough analysis of each Haggadah in its historical and cultural contexts can scholars begin to understand the appearance and disappearance of the illuminated Haggadot from medieval Spain.