December 11, 2020

Hanukkah Greetings

         I thought I’d celebrate Hanukkah by looking through the wood block prints from a couple of seventeenth-century Jewish prayer books.  Of course, since I can’t read Hebrew, I don’t really know what I’m looking at in most cases, but I wanted to share a few that seemed appropriate.
        First is a man lighting a menorah.  I have two illustrations for you, one from 1611 and the other from 1669.  You can see that the iconography is very consistent, and that becomes even clearer if you check back and compare with another menorah-lighting man I shared a couple of years ago.  It’s entirely possible that the second was directly copied from the first, or that they were both copied from an earlier model.  It’s particularly interesting that the man is dressed the same in both, since presumably fashions would have changed in the fifty-eight years between the two illustrations.  On the other hand, there are two differences.  In the first, the man uses two spills, while in the second he uses a single long spill to light the flames.  Also, the second version decides to include a pitcher.  Why?
        Next I have another set of corresponding illustrations from the same two prayer books.  I don’t know what this is actually illustrating, but I imagined perhaps if the woman were cooking oily food, it would be appropriate for Hanukkah!  However, what it really looks like is that a bowl is hanging (or magically floating?) below a lamp, and this must be significant because the woman has interrupted her cooking to raise her hands to it.  Once again the two pictures are extremely similar, except in being reversed, but once again the second artist has decided to include a pitcher.  Perhaps he (or she) just really enjoyed doing pitchers!
        I include one more illustration from the earlier book, depicting God handing the Ten Commandments to Moses on the top of the mountain.  No, it has nothing in particular to do with Hanukkah, but I liked it.  I especially enjoy the touches of beautifully curly smoke(?) rising up from the mountaintop, and the bell of the trumpet poking down from the clouds to herald this divine visitation.
        I wish a very Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating, and may all of us find that the Light in our lives exceeds our fears.

[Pictures: Three wood block prints from Minhagim, 1611 (Images from Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg);

Two wood block prints from Birkat ham-mazon, 1669 (Images from Bayerische StaatsBibliothek).]

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