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Hebrew Manuscript Painting in Late Medieval Spain: Signs of a Culture in Transition
The art of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from Spain is revealed in two distinct artistic languages: an aniconic, primarily ornamental idiom whose formal language is closely linked to the Islamic arts of Spain. The biblical picture cycles in the Passover Haggadot, on the other hand, use a richly narrative mode, do not refrain from figurative images, and are deeply embedded in the Gothic stylistic tradition. The paper proposes an explanation of this phenomenon within the fabric of inner-Jewish polemics and cultural change. The use of Islamic decoration patterns and the adherence to aniconic ornamentation cannot simply be explained in terms of the centuries-long presence of Islam in most parts of the peninsula. Rather, the preference for Islamic styles mirror a continuous dialogue with Islamic culture in an effort to keep alive those cultural values traditional Sephardic Jewry stood for, at a moment in history, when these values were challenged by other cultural trends.