Micrography


 
Jonah

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Mizrah

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Song of songs
Micrography is minute script written into abstract patterns or formed into the shape of objects, animals or human figures. This uniquely Jewish art dates possibly from the late 9th century CE and were written by Jewish scribes in Eretz Yisrael and in Egypt. Micrography developed within the Islamic cultural surroundings, in which the written word was frequently transformed into elaborate decorative patterns. Spreading from there to Yemen, and to Europe; a tradition that has been sustained until the present day.

Hebrew micrography was the creation of the scribes of Tiberias in Eretz Yisrael. Much of the earliest micrography is found in biblical codices. These Bibles in book form, unlike Torah scrolls, were not subject to the constraing rabbinical rules determining the arrangement of the text and the design of the letters. The most common text, employed by scribes to create their micrographic artistry, was the masorah. The masorah ("tradition") is the system of notes in the margin of  biblical codices; which counted and listed each word in the Hebrew Bible, how many times and where it appeared in exactly the same form. The scribes (soferim) were already accustomed to writing the minuscule script for tefillin and for mezuzot scrolls. These required a disciplined, minute hand, written on a tiny piece parchment, many only one inch square. Figuring the text into designs was an outlet for their creative talents while occupied with the drudgery of copying out the masorah. Later, scribes began to fashion these masoretic notations into floral motifs, intricate geometric designs, figures and decorations in a form known as internal micrography.  Alternatively the masoretic notes, psalms or dedications might also be combined with a painted ornament to compose a full page frontispieces or carpet. This is known as external micrography

In the earliest Bible codices of Eretz Yisrael and Egypt, the decoration was usually geometric and abstract, in keeping with the contemporary Islamic art. Some architectural and plant motifs are also to found. The earliest dated medieval Hebrew manuscript of 895-6 CE is in the Cairo Karaite Synagogue, it is the Moshe Ben-Asher Codex of the Prophets. This already shows micrographic masorah in both forms. , From the late eighth to the early tenth centuries members of the Ben-Asher family were considered master masoretes. From the 12th century In Egypt, ketubbot (marriage contracts) were decorated with micrography.
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By the early thirteenth century, micrography appeared in Europe in the Sephardic manuscripts of Spain and Portugal as well as in the Ashkenazic works produced in Northern Europe. Micrographic ornamentation in the Hebrew books written in the Iberian Peninsula usually consisted of elaborate carpet pages placed at the beginning and ending of the manuscript and at the main divisions of the biblical text. In addition, these texts also featured decorative designs in the margins. The micrographic creations that bordered the text evolved from primarily geometric forms into figural and illustrative representations. Common motifs included the tabernacle implements, human figures and animals. Marginal masorah in Yemen was simple and geometric, and closely knit parallel lines, zigzags, and diagonals were popular designs. The textual material of Yemenite carpet pages was biblical, with Psalms as the favourite. Occasionally, the subject of the biblical text would be illustrated in micrography.

Strong criticism was voiced by the renowned rabbi Judah He-Hasid (1150-1217) a member of the 12th and 13th century pietist circle known as the Hasidei Ashkenaz, who complained that the masoretic text was rendered unusable by the designs. He stipulated that a patron commissioning a scribe to copy a Bible, must instruct the scribe not to shape the masorah into any ornamental patterns.

In the Ashkenazi  manuscripts of Northern Europe they were frequently inhabited by animals and grotesques similar to that found in the margins of Gothic illuminated manuscripts. Marginal masorah was also woven into a variety of animate forms depicting lions, elephants, ducks, goats, horses, deer, bears, camels, dragons, unicorns and jousting knights; and inanimate forms in the shape of keys, flags and masks. Some scribes even left their names in micrography as well.

The heyday of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi micrography was the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.Rylands HagaddahThe Barcelona and Rylands Haggadah are exquisite examples. In the mid-fifteenth century the invention of printing reduced the number of manuscript Bibles that were produced. Yet Jewish scribes did not abandoned micrography as a form of artistic expression. 
 

Even after the decline of manuscript production in the sixteenth century, micrography continued to be used to decorate ketubbot and wall hangings. Italian scribes began to decorate ketubbot with micrography. They chose verses from the Song of Solomon, Psalms, Proverbs, and from the books of Ruth and Esther, and blessings for the good fortune of the bride and groom based on biblical passages, drawing them in geometric and architectural forms, flowers, family crests, and even the nude forms of Adam and Eve.  From the seventeenth century onward, scribes who practised the art of micrography favoured the texts of the five Megillot, Psalms and Proverbs as the basis of their art. Other micrographic illustrations on parchment or fine paper were also made in Italy, among them Omer calendars for use in counting the days between Passover and the beginning of Shavuot together with  Sukkah decorations and Purim pieces.

In 1798, the invention of lithography extended the micrographic arts beyond the exclusive realm of one-of-a-kind manuscripts. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the mass production of micrographic prints allowed this ancient art form to reach a much broader Jewish audience. The potential of the lithographic press for inexpensive reproduction and dissemination of micrography presented the Scribes and printers with a new outlet for their talents. In the 19th century these prints encompassed a wide variety of themes; biblical portraits and vignettes as well as panoramas of the holy sites of Israel were especially popular. Famous rabbinic, political and literary personalities were also favoured subjects; their micrographic portraits were exactingly rendered from the minute words and letters of their own books and poems. Micrography  surfaced in England, France, Holland, Russia and Poland as well, and toward the end of the century the art was brought to America and North Africa. In the late 20th century Jewish scribes and calligraphers continued to practice the art, introducing new subjects and finding creative applications of this ancient art form. Reproductions of superb examples, such as the Barcelona and Rylands Haggadah are reproduced and printed in expensive limited editions. Jewish schools are encouraging there pupils find expression in this art form. Examples of which can be found on the world wide web.
 



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Illustration

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Esther



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