15th Century

The Kennicott Bible

The Kennicott Bible [London: Facsimile Editions, 1985]
BS715.5 .K46 1985 Special Collections Vault

This Hebrew Bible was written in 1476 and illustrated by Joseph Ibn Hayyim.  The medieval Spanish manuscript is a treasure of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.  Hand-written in beautifully clear Sephardi script, it was created almost twenty years before the final expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. It took five and half years to make the facsimile. The manuscript is named for Benjamin Kennicott, an Oxford scholar who compared hundreds of Hebrew manuscripts world-wide.  He noted that the manuscript was copied by the scribe Moses Ibn Zabara in 1476 at the commission of Isaac, the son of Don Solomon di Braga of La Coruña in north-western Spain. The illuminator, Joseph ibn Hayyim, signed only one manuscript that we know of, this one. Jews were not permitted to belong to the craft guilds, and not much is known about Jewish illuminators. Colophons providing information about the scribe sometimes mentioned the vocalizer but rarely referred to the artist. This manuscript is one of the few exceptions. A full page is devoted to the artist's colophon, in which his name is written in large zoomorphic and anthropomorphic letters. It is thought that he may be a kinsman of Abraham ibn Hayyim, who composed a treatise on illumination in the 1460s. King David on his throne, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, or Balaam as an astrologer consulting an astrolabe, are a few of the notable text illustrations in the Kennicott Bible.  This 15th century codex is considered to be one of the most beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in existence.

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