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VOrnement Hebraique par D. Gunzburg et V. Stassof. (Berlin : 
S. Calvary & Co., 1905.) 

Bakoh David Gunzburg has, in conjunction with M. Vladimir 
Stassof, produced a work of very great interest for the history of 
Hebrew MSS. ornamentations. The publication consists of a portfolio 
of twenty-seven plates, measuring close upon 23 in. by i8| in, ; and 
as the margins are as a rule rather narrow, the size of the repro- 
ductions will at once strike one as being on a magnificent scale, 
apparently the scale of the original MSS. themselves. In many cases, 
however, the plates contain a variety of smaller ornamentations 
grouped together partly on account of their artistic relation to each 
other, and partly for the sake of the grand effect which the com- 
bination was intended to produce. The plates are in the following 
order: First a frontispiece, bearing no number, and intended to 
show the artistic "motifs" underlying the ornamentations that 
follow; then Nos. I-VI, VII, VII*, VIII-XXII, followed by plates 
A, B, and C. The ornamentations of plates I-XXII are all taken 
from the collections of Hebrew MSS. acquired by the Imperial 
Library of St. Petersburg from Abraham Firkovicz in 1856, and 
from his representatives in 1876. Plate A is taken from a MS. of 
French origin in possession of the Bibliotheque Nationale, at Paris ; 
plate B reproduces ornamentations contained in certain British 
Museum MSS.; and plate C represents an ornamented Yemenite 
MS. in Baron Gunzburg's own possession. 

We shall return presently to the contents of the plates for the 
purpose of taking note of them in detail. For the moment we must 
consider the main idea which Baron Gunzburg and M. Stassof desire 
us to see embodied in their fine portfolio of ornamentations. This 
idea is lucidly expressed in the " Avant-Propos " penned by Baron 
Gunzburg, and it amounts to a thesis of no less magnitude than this : 
That there exists, or, at any rate that during the period covered 
by their MSS., and long before, there has existed, an art of orna- 
mentation which can be called specifically Jewish, and that the 
" motifs " underlying this Jewish art can be traced clearly enough, 
though under various modifications, in the ornamented Hebrew MSS. 
coining from different countries of the diaspora. Both M. Stassof 


and Baron Gunzburg are very deeply impressed with the reality of 
" la tradition artistique chez les Israelites," and they claim that their 
joint publication proves the thesis up to the hilt. It is, therefore, 
from a critical point of view very necessary to examine the theory 
in the light of all the available evidence; and this we may do 
without in any way belittling the fine portfolio of ornamentations 
before us. On the contrary, we may be grateful to the editors even 
for their error— if error we can show it to be— as to the cardinal 
point ; for " L'Ornement Hebraique " would probably never have seen 
the light, if it were not for the idea of a specifically Jewish art which 
inspired the editors with the desire of producing the work. 

Now for the main idea itself. Can we accept the thesis that there 
does exist, or at any rate that there has existed, a peculiarly Jewish 
art of MSS. ornamentations? Let us look at the evidence. We 
have before us (1) an illuminated MS. of French origin, belonging 
to the thirteenth century ; (2) illuminated Haggadahs produced (a) 
in the South of France or North of Spain, (b) in Germany and else- 
where; (3) an illuminated copy ofMaimonides' Yad of Spanish origin, 
belonging to the latter part of the fifteenth century ; (4) a finely 
ornamented copy of a Festival Service Book, written and ornamented 
at Florence about the middle of the fifteenth century. This list 
could be considerably extended, but it will be sufficient for our 
purpose. For if we compare not only the general impressions received 
from these specimens of the illuminative art, but also the details 
of the various ornamentations, it seems quite impossible to aflfirni 
that they, in any essential manner whatsoever, all belong to one and 
the same class of artistic work ; and if furthermore the various kinds 
of Hebrew ornamentations are compared with the general orna- 
mentative art as it flourished at the periods named in France, Italy, 
Spain, Germany, and other parts of the globe, one is irresistibly led 
to the conclusion that the divers specimens of Hebrew MSS. orna- 
mentations are neither more nor less than reproductions of French, 
Italian, Spanish, German, and other models. The theory, therefore, 
that there is, or that there ever was, an illuminative art that can be 
called purely Jewish is thus shown to be in conflict with the evidence, 
and would seem to be merely "the child aerial, of enthusiasm born 
and noblest love." 

But how is it, we may fairly ask, that the ornamentations of 
the portfolio before us do— at any rate so far as plates I-XXII are 
concerned, produce an impression of homogeneity ? and how is it 
that M. Ropett has been able to construct out of them the fine frontis- 
piece embodying the selfsame "motifs" underlying them all? The 
answer is that the MSS. from which these plates were taken have one 
and all an oriental or semi-oriental provenance, and that their general 


similarity of character is determined not so much by their Jewish con- 
tents as by their more or less cognate origin. For although Abraham 
Firkovicz was as great a traveller as he was a scholar and a falsifier, 
there were certain limits to his travels as much as to his other doings. 
The Crimea, the Caucasus, Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, were 
the countries the treasures of which he aimed at ransacking. The 
Hebrew MSS. collected by him no doubt came mainly from the 
Crimea, Egypt, and Palestine, though he probably also brought 
several from Mesopotamia. The collections purchased from him and 
his legatees by the Russian Government therefore bore throughout 
the eastern or half-eastern stamp of workmanship, and the similarity 
of the various ornamentations may thus safely be put down to this 
cause and — so far as the main characteristics of the art are con- 
cerned—to none other. In how far plates A, B, and C fall in with 
the general scheme of the ornamentations shown in the portfolio, 
and in how far they differ from it, is a question which can only 
be referred to in a detailed consideration of the plates. For the 
present it is enough to state our conviction that if Firkovicz had 
included France, Italy, Spain, and other parts in his travels, he 
might have brought together a collection of MSS. far less homo- 
geneous in character than the great Hebrew Library established as 
a result of his efforts at St. Petersburg. 

The conclusion, therefore, at which we arrive is that the existence 
of a specifically Jewish ait of illumination is negatived 1 by the fuller 
evidence afforded by collections which largely differ in their character 
from the MSS. brought together by Firkovicz ; and it may, perhaps, 
fitly be remarked here that the Jewish genius, so far as it can be 
identified with the highest and best of the race as a whole, moves 
in an entirely different sphere of excellence. Jewish artists there, 
of course, are ; but they are qua artists merged into one or other 
of the schools of art that may exist at the time. Their genius is, 
from a Jewish point of view, not racial but individual. The thing 
would stand quite differently if a modern Jew were to excel in the 
art of writing sacred poetry or in the intuitive (as distinct from 
the philosophic) power of religious contemplation. 

Before taking leave of Baron Gunzburg's interesting and, notwith- 
standing its untenable main thesis, inspiriting " Avant-Propos," it 
is necessary to remark that the question of the existence of a speci- 
fically Jewish art is quite distinct from that proposed by the late 
Professor David Kaufmann 2 as to whether the ornamentations of 

1 This does not, of course, exclude special Jewish features of a sub- 
sidiary nature, such as the choice of subjects, the introduction of Jewish 
symbols, &c. 

2 In the edition of the famous Haggadah of Sarajevo. The same topic 



Hebrew MSS. were executed by Jews or Gentiles. The answer to 
this question will, in substantial agreement with that of Professor 
Kaufmann himself, have to be that, broadly speaking, Jewish artists 
of different schools, such as the Palestinian (?), Egyptian, Yemenite, 
Byzantine, French, or Italian, are responsible for the illumination 
of the Hebrew MSS. produced in different parts of the world. The 
ornamented Masorah 1 , which is so striking a feature in many of 
the plates contained in the portfolio, is in itself a proof that the 
Jewish scribe was in those particular cases also the illuminator ; and 
it may, generally speaking, be affirmed that a thorough insight into 
the nature of the Hebrew text must be regarded as an indispensable 
qualification for an efficient style of ornamenting it. But such a 
qualification was very rare even among the more learned monks of 
mediaeval times. 

We may now proceed to a detailed examination of the plates, and 
we must begin by saying that the description of them offered by 
Baron Gunzburg will, though brief, be found very helpful and in- 
structive. Great care has evidently been exercised in the assignment 
of dates and suggestions of localities of workmanship in all cases 
where the MSS. themselves contain no explicit information on those 
points. The name of Pirkovicz is, alas ! but too frequently mentioned 
in connexion with " chemical experiments " and certain or probable 
falsifications. We will in the present notice only mention some 
of the most important features of the plates, and here and there add 
such observations as the subject may suggest. 

The frontispiece, which, as has already been mentioned, was designed 
by M. Ropett, who is an architect by profession, is not described 
in the " Avant-Propos." The richly gilded design includes in its 
"motifs" the *V\*I JJD; the sacred candlestick; circles, squares, 
triangles, and other geometrical figures; ornamentations in lancet- 
form, &c. ; and (at the bottom) a scroll of the law partly unrolled. 
On the upper margin is the legend : nm "1E>N DrW3n3 nB>J» mm 
*ina itfcOD. On the body of the plate, artistically arranged, and in 
fancifully shaped letters bearing a resemblance to Hebrew characters, 
is the title : " Ornementation des Anciens Manuscripts Hebreux de la 
Bibliotheque Imperiale Publique de Saint-Petersbourg." In one circle 
are the dates ilinnri, 5646, 1886, i.e. the year when the plate was 
designed by M. Ropett. Names of collaborators, &c, are also given. 

Plates I, II, III, IV, and XXI, 1 reproduce ornamentations taken 

is touched upon in Dr. Julius von Schlosser's brilliant essay, entitled 
" Der Bilderschmuck der Haggadah," in the same work, pp. 211-52. 

1 The MSS. from which these plates were taken are probably of Karaite 


from MS. II, 17 of the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg. The date 
is A. Gr. 1241 (a. d. 930), and the editors believe Egypt to be the 
" pays de provenance." We will only mention that the seven-branched 
candlestick and Temple utensils, which are rather crudely represented 
on Plates II and III, are not at all identical in form with either 
those given on PI. A, or those contained in the British Museum MS. 
numbered King's 1. This shows that even where perpetuity of 
tradition might reasonably be expected, the student who starts with 
a theory must be prepared for disappointment. The plates themselves 
show, in fact, two different forms of the sacred candlestick, the 
one rounded ', and the other with angular joints. A certain family 
likeness, however, there naturally is, as how could it be otherwise 
with representations of the same objects. 

Plates V, 1-36, VI, 1-40 and 42 are taken from MS. II, 11, which is 
assigned to the ninth century. One of the reasons given for naming 
Syria as a possible "pays d'origine" are the triangles superimposed 
on several of the ornamentations. We here frequently meet with 
the much ornamented letter D to mark, we suppose, the end of 
the Masoretic divisions called CIID. 

PL VI, 41 represents a portion of some fragments 2 of the Hagio- 
grapha (MS. II, 115), which is dated (4)754 a.m. (a.d. 994). It 
contains the following words within an ornamented oblong : — 

pntKi hi SO ViT 
pW "O 51DV 1-h 

The owner, Joseph b. Isaac, is described in another part of the 
MS. as TlDDn, but the editors are inclined to assign the fragments to 
a Syrian origin. 

The entry under PI. VI, 42 seems to represent some mistake on the 
part of the editors, as VI, 42 was already included in a preceding 

Plates VII and VII* (taken from the MS. I, B. 19 a) is declared by 
the editor to be "un des plus beaux specimens connus d'enluminure 
biblique et un des MSS. les plus remarquables pour l'etude critique 
de la Bible." Its date is a.d. ioio, and its origin is Cairo. The plates 
no doubt present us with veiy beautiful and most elaborate specimens 
of the Masorah in the form of illuminated diagrams. 

PI. VIII, 1-23 shows remarkably beautiful small ornamentations 
(taken from MS. II, 10) in the shape of six- and eight-cornered forma 
of the IVl pD, &c. They are assigned to the beginning of the eleventh 
century, and their origin may possibly be Egypt. 

1 It may be noted that the candlestick on the arch of Titus is rounded. 
s Several of the MSS. are, in fact, described as mere strips or torn leaves. 



PI. VIII, 24, 25 (from MS. II, 12) shows a part of the Masorah in 
the form of an ornamented diagram, and (apparently) part of an 
epigraph. The MS. was in 1031 given to a Synagogue at Cairo, 
"si l'inscription est authentique." It is assigned to Egypt, and is 
believed to be of the ninth or tenth century. 

PI. VIII, 26-31 (from MS. I, in) shows very beautiful small orna- 
mentations (vignettes at the head of columns). Date, a.m. 4868 
(A.D. 1118). Egyptian? 

PI. IX (from MS. II, 267) contains a dedication to a person named 
Aaron b. Abraham. The origin is apparently Egypt, and the date 
assigned to it is the beginning of the eleventh century. The 
colouring and style of ornamentation remind us strongly of Plates 
I, II, &c. 

PL X, 1 (MS. II, 263), of Egyptian origin, and probably belonging 
to latter part of the eleventh century. The date of presentation 
to a Synagogue in Cairo, supposed to have been originally 1245, is 
believed to have been falsified by Firkovicz into 1045. 

PI. X, 2-13, XI (MS. II, 49, " malheureusement abime par Firko- 
vich ") ; probably tenth century. PI. XI represents a pointed portal, 
with texts within designs. 

Plates XII, XIII, XIV, 1-6 (MS. II, 262), partly illuminated 
Masorah, reminds one again very strongly by its colouring of Plates 
I, II, &e. It is assigned to the beginning of the eleventh century, 
and its origin is Cairo. It may be noted that the chain-like orna- 
mentations on PI. XIV, 1 are not the same in form as those found 
on PI. B (vide infra). 

PI. XIV, 7-17 (MS. II, 272) contains fine little ornamentations 
assigned to the end of the eleventh century, with Jerusalem as a 
likely place of provenance. The arabesque portions of the plate 
the editors were obliged to declare of foreign origin. If, however, 
the theory of a purely Jewish ornamentative art be abandoned, this 
imitation of Moorish forms would fall in with the general tendency 
of adaptation. Very fine specimens of a modified kind of arabesque 
ornamentation are found in the British Museum MS. Harley 5698 
(Maimonides' Yad; Spanish origin, A.D. 1472). 

PI. XV (MS. II, 17), a fine specimen of ornamented Masorah, which 
the editors (on doubtful grounds, as it appears to us) assign to the 
ninth century. The large star-like ornamentation is really a form 
of the eight-cornered in JJD, the six-cornered form being given in 
smaller size within. 

Plates XVI, XVII, XVIII (MS. 11,8) are exceedingly beautiful, both 
in general outline and in detail. The colouring is also very pleasing. 
The date is 95 1 A. d., and Jerusalem is believed to be the place of 


PI. XIX, 1-2 (MS. II, 168) takes us to a later time, the date being 
1225 A. D. It is, however, very fine work indeed. 

PL XIX, 3-7 (MS. II, 1 01) belongs to about the middle of the 
fourteenth century, and the ornamentations are held to be "em- 
pruntes a l'industrie textile du N. de l'Afrique." 

PL XX (MS. II, 53) is richer and more elaborate still. It also 
belongs to the north of Africa, and is assigned to the fifteenth 
century, or near it. 

Plates XXI, 4-6, 8-13; XXII, 1-17 (MS. II, 116) contain no orna- 
mentations in gold or colours, but only Masoretic rubrics in all sorts 
of elaborate geometrical and other designs. They are assigned to the 
eleventh or twelfth century, and are held to have come from the 
Near East. 

PL XXI. 14-18 (MS. I, 92) also contains uncoloured designs of 
Masoretic rubrics. The parchment is said to have been prepared " a 
la facon de France et dAllemagne," and is supposed to belong to 
the twelfth century. The reader is referred to Cat. Harkavy, pp. 131- 
33, and " Altjiidische Denkmaler aus der Krim," p. 92. 

PI. XXII, 18-19 (MS. I, 67), also Masoretic uncoloured designs, 
though no. 19 has a red outline round it. It may belong to the 
thirteenth century, and it is probably Egyptian in origin. 

PL A (MS. no. 7, Bibl. Nationale, Paris) has already been referred 
to in connexion with the representation of Temple utensils spoken of 
under plates I, II, &c. 

PL B contains ornamentations taken from the British Museum 
MSS. Or. 2363, 2373, 2365, 2350. It should be noticed that the MS. 
Or. 2363 (twelfth century) is not Yemenite, as the editors ihink, but 
in all probability Persian. The chain-like ornamentations belonging 
to it are, however, similar in the main to those taken from the 
Yemenite MSS. (coiupare XV, 1). 

PI. C contains rich, but, to our eye, not very pleasing ornamentations 
taken from a Yemenite copy of the Hagiographa in the possession of 
Baron Gunzburg. The date is A. D. 1292. 

We may remark in conclusion that the Yemenite illuminations 
do not seem to us to be of the same genre as those described under 
Plates I-XXII. 

This account of the fine portfolio of Hebrew ornamentations which 
Baron Gunzburg and M. Stassof have presented to the world of 
learning and of art may fitly be concluded with the often quoted 
but none the less ever true saying that "a thing of beauty is a 
joy for ever." 

George Margohottth.