VISUAL ARTS Everything Is Illuminated:
Tue, 09/04/2012
Special To The Jewish Week
Tripartite Mahzor, Germany, early 14th century, at left. Bottom, Michael Mahzor, Germany, 1257.
Tripartite Mahzor, Germany, early 14th century, at left. Bottom, Michael Mahzor, Germany, 1257.

Culled from a rare collection of illuminated manuscripts from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England, “Crossing Borders” is a highly anticipated show opening at The Jewish Museum. According to curator Claudia Nahson, this is a rare opportunity for New York visitors because these manuscripts do not often travel from the Bodleian, home to one of the world’s most important collections of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.

The “heart and soul” of the exhibit, Nahson told The Jewish Week, is the mingling of ideas between Judaism, Christianity and Islam that is evident in the manuscripts. “The works were not created in isolation; [they reflect] the same way we are part of a wider world [now], and I think that this show really speaks to that,” she said, adding that we should look at the positive outcome when you have the confluence of three faiths and what can emerge from it.

Visitors will have the unique opportunity to see manuscripts hand-written by Maimonides, the 12th-century scholar, philosopher and physician. “You can see the fluidity of his hand,” noted Nahson. “It looks like he’s writing in Arabic, but it is cursive Hebrew.”

The exhibit’s most famous piece is the Kennicott Bible, which was created by a Jewish scribe and Jewish artist in Spain in 1476, in the years before the Jews were expelled. The Kennicott, which has over 900 pages, 200 of which are richly illuminated, has been completely digitized, and computer screens will be available so visitors can see images of the pages.

In time for the High Holy Days, a number of mahzorim (prayer books) will be on display, including the Michael Machzor, from the mid-13th century, and the Tripartite Mahzor from the early 14th century. 

“Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian,” opens Sept. 14 and runs through Feb. 3, 2013 at The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. (at 92nd Street), (212) 423-3200.