Haggadot are among the most beloved Hebrew liturgical books. The text, comprising biblical passages, prayers, and hymns, is read aloud at the Passover seder, the domestic ceremony held annually in Jewish homes to commemorate the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
The Rose Haggadah sits within a long and rich tradition of Hebrew manuscripts. Illuminated Haggadot first became popular around the thirteenth century. The relatively short text fostered pictorial elaboration, and the domestic context allowed patrons and artists a certain freedom in their choice of decoration. Haggadot were often illustrated with biblical scenes, episodes from Jewish legend, and the celebration of the seder itself.
Barbara Wolff is one of the rare contemporary artists using the techniques of medieval manuscript illumination. She paints on vellum—animal skin—and highlights her work with silver, gold, and platinum foils. Her imaginatively conceived designs for the Rose Haggadah combine these ancient traditions with historical and archaeological references and wry humor, while reinventing the images for a modern audience.
The unique manuscript was originally commissioned for use by the Rose family. The Hebrew text was written by Izzy Pludwinski of Jerusalem, and the English captions are by Karen Gorst of Harrison, New York. Wolff executed the paintings and illuminations between 2011 and 2013.
The film, An Illuminated Haggadah for the 21st Century was produced to accompany the Rose Haggadah manuscript and to document the process and craft involved in its creation.
This digital facsimile was created in conjunction with the exhibition Hebrew Illumination for Our Time: The Art of Barbara Wolff on view February 6 through May 3, 2015 , and organized by curator Roger Wieck.
As with all books in Hebrew, the text is read from right to left and the pages sequence from right to left.
This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Daniel and Joanna S. Rose and the David Berg Foundation, with additional support from the Sherman Fairchild Fund for Exhibitions.
Artwork © 2014 Barbara Wolff
Digital photography by Rudi Wolff