"And all the people saw the voices": Sound and Image in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts of the Late Middle Ages

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference presentation/ephemerapeer-review


This paper explores form and meaning in images of music and sound in four late medieval Hebrew illuminated manuscripts. The thirteenth-century Italian Parma Psalter uses musical motifs as a visual sign of text content for initial word panels that serve as division markers for the Psalms. It also depicts pseudo-musical notation—an anomaly in a medieval Hebrew manuscript since medieval Jews never adopted Christian systems of musical notation. The fourteenth-century Barcelona Haggadah contains many illustrations of musical instruments and reinterprets the earlier Christian iconographic conventions of the Four Winds in symbolic representations related to the text of the Jewish Passover ritual. The fourteenth-century Tripartite Maḥzor, an Ashkenazic liturgical manuscript decorated by Christian artists, contains several compositions in which visualisations of music and sound constitute a means of visual exegesis of the text. The Oppenheimer Siddur is a book of daily prayers made by a scribe-artist in Germany in 1471 for personal use, and contains many illustrations of music-making, which in some cases show a direct debt to Christian iconographic conventions. Yet when viewed thematically within the closed context of this prayer book, these recurring musical figures serve as a visual metaphor for Jewish prayer. Sounding images are prominent in the decoration programs of all four manuscripts, but the differences between them may reflect not only production circumstances and cultural/temporal disparities between the communities who used them, but also a process of reinterpretation, whereby motifs in contemporaneous Christian visual cultures acquired changed meanings in Hebrew manuscripts intended for medieval Jewish audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2018
EventMusicological Society of Australia National Conference - Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia
Duration: 6 Dec 20189 Dec 2018


ConferenceMusicological Society of Australia National Conference
Abbreviated titleMSA
Internet address


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