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Evelyn M. Cohen

The most profusely decorated Hebrew codex produced in Renaissance Italy. It is a compilation of approximately 70 works, including biblical, liturgical, historical, legal, philosophical, astrological, Cabbalistic and moralistic texts, many of them with a commentary written in the margins. The religious works include the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job, a Machzor and a Haggadah. The secular books include Josippon’s history of the Jews (based on Josephus) and the Meshal ha-Kadmoni. The codex would thus have functioned as a miniature library. The patron of the manuscript is unknown, as there is no colophon or inscription of ownership, but the name Moses ben Jekutiel ha-Cohen, mentioned in the blessing of the Torah (fol. 106), possibly refers to the original owner. The calendar of the lunar cycle (fol. 471) begins with 1470, and stylistically the manuscript appears to belong to the third quarter of the 15th century.

This small (210×156 mm) codex, written on fine vellum in an Italo-Ashkenazi script, is composed of 437 folios, 408 of which are illuminated. In addition to two full-page miniatures for the Book of Job and five full-page diagrams, the manuscript contains approximately 200 smaller text illustrations, which are placed in the columns of text, the outer margins of the pages, or the borders of the initial word panels. These pictures capture the daily life of a Renaissance Jew in Italy by portraying the religious observances that were performed daily, on the Sabbath and on the various holy days, as well as the rituals of circumcision, marriage and mourning. Biblical episodes are also depicted, as are scenes from numerous animal fables....