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8 / Writing

The Five Scrolls
The Five Scrolls
Artist / Origin Aaron Wolf Herlingen (Austrian, ca. 1700–ca. 1757)
Region: Europe
Date 1748
Material Ink and gold leaf on paper
Dimensions H: 7 ½ in. (19.1 cm.), W: 6 in. (15 cm.)
Location Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Credit Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

expert perspective

Sharon Liberman MintzCurator of Jewish Art, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary

The Five Scrolls

» Aaron Wolf Herlingen (Austrian, ca. 1700–ca. 1757)

expert perspective

Sharon Liberman Mintz Sharon Liberman Mintz Curator of Jewish Art, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary

There’s a very interesting Jewish art form known as micrography—‘micro’ meaning small, ‘graphic’ meaning script. And it’s the art of taking text, writing it in minute, minute letters, and creating beautiful decorative pages out of this micrographic text. So they would use often the Masorah, which is a body of information that ensured the correct transmission of the biblical text, and they would take the words of the Masorah and they would form them into geometric patterns, floral patterns, hunt scenes, all kinds of beautiful, beautiful, elaborate page embellishments. And this is something that we find almost uniquely in Hebrew manuscripts.

The rabbis were less than excited about using the text of the Masorah for this micrographic technique because the Masorah is there—it’s a body of information handed down, which tells you how words should be spelled in the Bible—whether they include certain letters or they don’t, how many times it appears. And this kind of ensures that the Bible gets written correctly over the course of hundreds and even thousands of years. When you form it into micrographic text you can no longer read it. It becomes sort of impossible to follow what it’s saying. So we actually have responsa from the rabbi saying, ‘If you hire a scribe and you’re going to pay him to write a bible for you, make sure that he does not form the words of the Masorah into these decorative trees and flowers and birds because you will no longer be able to use the Masorah for what it’s there for.’ This was observed in the breach more than anything else. It’s clear that the rabbis felt that the reading was primary. It’s not entirely clear that the patrons felt that the reading was primary.” 

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