(B2-24) From Manuscript to Printing Press: The Illustrated Book in Jewish Culture (Fourteenth–Sixteenth Centuries)

From the moment the idea of multiple reproduction began to occupy the minds of makers of books in the 14th c., the manuscript and the printed book entered into a complex relationship. Over some centuries these two media co-existed and their ways often crossed. Recent approaches to book history pay special attention to this period of transition putting it into wider social and political contexts: print culture affecting communication patterns; the notion of  “typographic fixity” in contrast to the flexibility (or “corruptness”) of manuscript culture; the effect economic developments –such as capitalism– had on early print culture. Surprisingly enough these approaches to book history have hitherto received only limited attention in the realm of Jewish culture. Neither have they been considered sufficiently in art-historical discussions of illustrated books. Whereas the origins of Jewish manuscript culture (in particular the transition from an oral to a written culture) are discussed in recent research, the decades preceding and following Gutenberg’s invention have been dealt with only in traditional approaches that focus on bibliography, palaeography and codicology.

Our project addresses Jewish book culture of the 15th c. and examines the cultural, religious, social and economic background of illustrated Hebrew books in Europe. Various points of view will be considered:  patronage, function, professionals of the book trade, economic factors, regional and cultural differences between the various communities, and more. Particularly striking changes occurred in the German Lands in the style and techniques of illustration, changes that appear to be a by-product of the emergence of print culture, and reflect the economic and social developments that ultimately led to the printing press. As a result the history of the book in Iberia during this period was hitherto underrepresented, a lacuna that we hope to fill. The project is aimed at identifying these changes as they can be observed specifically in Hebrew manuscripts, compare them to similar processes in non-Jewish book production, and examine them against the background of social and economic developments within the different Jewish communities.

The Project is part of Interconnecting platform F Transcultural Entanglements and coordinated project group Figurations of the religious and the political.