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Vatican loans oldest Hebrew book in existence

  • 24 ancient and rare religious manuscripts and books brought together for the first time
  • Story of cultural and religious exchange since the middle ages revealed
  • The Vatican Library lends three rare Hebrew manuscripts, on display for the first time in the UK
  • Renowned creative Patrick Kinmonth designs the exhibition
  • Vatican Library, British Library, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Library of Lambeth Palace loan objects

25 June 2010: Simon Schama, historian and author and Alan Yentob, Museum Patron, today openend the Jewish Museum London’s first major temporary exhibition since its reopening in March: ILLUMINATION: Hebrew Treasures from the Vatican and Major British Collections (25 June – 10 October 2010). Cherie Blair, was the guest of honour at the private view on Thursday evening 24 June 2010.

Highlights include: * The Oldest Hebrew Book in Existence: A 9th century midrash (commentary) on the book of Leviticus, the earliest Hebrew document in codex (book) form, on loan from the Vatican Library. * Most Exquisite Hebrew Bible, Stylistically Influenced By Islam: The intricately illuminated Kennicott Bible (Spain, 1476) on loan from the Bodleian Library, is the most exquisite of all Hebrew bibles and its illumination is unmistakably influenced by the stylistic traditions of Islam. The bible is named after Benjamin Kennicott, the English Hebraist (1718 – 1783) who continued the English tradition of studying the Hebrew bible. * The King of Spades: A detail from a page of the Kennicott Bible (Spain, 1476) depicting King David, probably inspired by the King of Spades on playing cards. * Image of the Temple of Solomon, Jerusalem which Inspired the Sistine Chapel: The Commentary on the Bible: Proverbs to Ezra by Nicholas of Lyra c.1500, on loan from the Bodleian Library, contains plans for Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The architectural dimensions of the Sistine Chapel were inspired by the plans of Solomon’s Temple. * An Important Work of Jewish Law: A richly illuminated 15th century version of the Mishneh Torah, considered to be a Renaissance masterpiece, written in the 12th century by Maimonides, the greatest medieval rabbinical figure (on loan from the Vatican Library)

The exhibition will bring together a collection of 24 rare manuscripts and books, exquisitely illuminated, including three from the Vatican Library, eight from the British Library, three from Lambeth Palace Library and eleven from the Bodleian Library which reveal a story of cultural exchange, practical cooperation and religious tolerance between Jews and non-Jews in the Muslim and Christian worlds during the Middle Ages and beyond.

Renowned creative, Patrick Kinmonth, responsible for some of the most innovative design projects in architecture, fashion, theatre and opera including Missoni’s flagship store in the USA in collaboration with Antonio Monfreda, and Anglomania at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2006, one of the most successful exhibitions ever mounted at that museum, is the exhibition designer for Illumination.

Throughout history, many Hebrew manuscripts have been destroyed because they were considered heretical and dangerous. At other times, these manuscripts were collected, treasured and adorned by fervent bibliophiles. These collectors and scholars included non-Jewish students of the Hebrew Bible who had learnt Hebrew and Aramaic for the purpose of exploring the deeper meaning of the scriptures. The Vatican Library acquired an extensive collection of Hebrew manuscripts for its own internal study and scholarship, but the documents were not displayed publicly.

The manuscripts and printed books in this exhibition date from the 9th to the 17th century and many are beautifully illuminated and decorated. The Jews who commissioned manuscripts frequently turned to highly skilled Christian artists for the illustration of the text, and the decorative styles of the works exhibited reflect local cultures and design, whether in the Moorish style of medieval Spain, the Italianate style, or the Gothic style of Northern Europe. The works attest to a shared culture and display coexistence and social interaction between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours, as well as enhancing our understanding of the intellectual exchange and transmission of knowledge between Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Rickie Burman, Director of the Jewish Museum, said: “Having recently opened our landmark museum celebrating Jewish life and cultural diversity, we are now looking forward to this unique and fascinating exhibition which will inaugurate our new Changing Exhibitions gallery. At a time when religious issues are often portrayed as creating division and unrest around the world, this exhibition demonstrates how positive connections can be made between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a reminder that in many cases our shared experience is stronger than our differences.”

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister and Founder of the Faith Foundation said: “What a wonderful idea to bring this material together on this occasion. I do hope it is the successful occasion it deserves to be and another small building block in strengthening Jewish-Catholic relations in this country”.

END

Attached Images: Full exhibition images at: http://www.kallaway.co.uk/jewish-museum.htm

Captions for attached images:

0031 – (left to right) Cherie Blair; Lady Wendy Levene, Chair of Development Committee and Rickie Burman, Museum Director at the VIP opening of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition on Thursday 24 June 2010.

0038 – Cherie Blair looks at a 15th century manuscript with Astronomical and calendarical tables, Spain, on loan from the British Library at the VIP opening of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition on Thursday 24 June 2010.

0033 – Cherie Blair looks at a 15th century manuscript with Astronomical and calendarical tables, Spain, on loan from the British Library at the VIP opening of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition on Thursday 24 June 2010.

0110 - (left to right) Alan Yentob, Creative Director, BBC and Museum Patron and Simon Schama, historian and author look at the oldest Hebrew document in codex (book) form in existence at the press preview of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition on Friday 25 June 2010. The Sifra or Torat Kohanim, is a rabbinic interpretation on Leviticus and is on loan from Vatican Apostolic Library. It dates from the late 9th – mid 10th century.

0114 - (left to right) Alan Yentob, Creative Director, BBC and Museum Patron; Rickie Burman, Museum Director and Simon Schama, historian and author at the press preview of the Jewish Museum's first temporary exhibition on Friday 25 June 2010.

Press information · Press releases and high resolution images can be downloaded from http://www.kallaway.co.uk/jewish-museum.htm · For further information please contact: · Will Kallaway - 020 7221 7883 / william.kallaway@kallaway.co.uk · Eliz Helvacioglu - 020 7221 7883 / eliz.helvacioglu@kallaway.com

Thursday 14th April, 2011

Press & filming

If you are interested in writing an article, using an image, or filming at the Jewish Museum London please contact Hannah Talbot, Head of Marketing, Communications and PR on +44 (0)20 7284 7356 or email hannah.talbot@jewishmuseum.org.uk 

 

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