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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

Additional Resources

“Bizarre Perfection.” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem Web site. http://www.imj.org.il

Fishof, Iris, ed. Jewish Art Masterpieces from the Israel Museum. Westport, CT: Hugh Lauter Levin in association with the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1994.

“Micrography: The Hebrew Word as Art.” The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary Web site. http://www.jtsa.edu

Soltes, Ori Z. Our Sacred Signs. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2005.

The Five Scrolls

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

Talented and prolific, Aaron Wolf Herlingen of Gewitsch belonged to a group of Jewish manuscript artists who flourished in Central Europe in the eighteenth century.

Among the most admired works of this master scribe and calligrapher is his version of the Five Scrolls (or Hamesh Megillot), which consists of a single, illustrated sheet containing text from five books of the Hebrew Bible—Ecclesiastes, Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth, and Lamentations. Herlingen created his Five Scrolls written in four languages (Hebrew, Latin, German, and French) in 1748, while employed at the Imperial Library in Vienna.

Four small, monochrome vignettes in circular frames adorn Herlingen’s Five Scrolls. These illustrations, depicting the Judgment of Solomon, Solomon Enthroned, Mordecai before Ahasuerus, and Ruth and Boaz in the Field, were strongly influenced by the engravings found in printed books of the period. However, the real art in the Five Scrolls is perhaps the tiny lettering, known as micrography, with which Herlingen writes the main portion of the text and other information identifying himself and the origin of the work.

Micrography is a unique Jewish art form that dates back to at least the ninth century CE. Passed down from scribe to scribe, it spread from Egypt south to Yemen and north to Europe. The art of micrography employs writing so small that it is generally illegible and relies on the placement of text to create the outlines of either images or decorative patterns. As is characteristic of the form, in Herlingen’s work, carefully positioned lines of text form the ornamental border and white passages dividing the sheet into discrete segments. Micrography is part of a tradition in Judaism that tends to shy away from figurative representation in favor of art that focuses on the word as the embodiment of sacred history and teachings.

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