The smallest-known miniature medieval Hebrew manuscript was recently unveiled by Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem. The fifteenth-century Italian manuscript is currently on view at University Archives, an auction house in Wilton, Connecticut, ahead of its sale in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The manuscript was previously held by a private collector for nearly 40 years.
Constructed from a single sheet of parchment, the miniature manuscript is cut into roundels measuring 5.5 centimeters in diameter, giving it a unique circular shape. The pages contain a machzor, or festival prayer book, for the Jewish holidays, including Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Chodesh, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Due to its limited size, the manuscript features an abridged version with selected sections rather than the full prayer text, and includes selected piyyutim (liturgical poems) for the High Holiday, as well as a complete Passover Haggadah from the Italian tradition.
They roundels are arranged in seven rows, with seven roundels in each row, for a total 98 written pages. This format enables the reader to fold the various roundels into different configurations to expose appropriate prayer sections. Upon completion of the prayers, the entire manuscript can be folded to the diameter of a single roundel for easy storage and portability.
The illuminated manuscript features ornamental foliate designs of delicate leaves and branches in green, pink and burgundy on the initial word panels, and contains illustrations of an angel blowing a shofar next to a trumpet-bearing figure at the beginning of the Kol Nidrei prayer. The Haggadah section includes illustrations of the Four Sons; Rabban Gamliel and other figures in contemporary dress holding a wine goblet at the blessing over the second cup; figures with matzah and bitter herbs; and animals, including a leopard, rabbit, and others.
Only a few Christian and Muslim manuscripts bear some similarity to this manuscript. The best-known is the Codex Rotundus, a 226-page “Book of Hours" (Christian devotional) manuscript written and illuminated in Bruges during the 15th century, and known as Rotundus for its circular shape. Similarly, several manuscripts of the Quran cut into miniature octagons were produced in Iran and Turkey in the 16th and 17th centuries, but were written on paper rather than parchment.
"We are proud to present this rare miniature manuscript to the public for the first time after being held for many years in a private collection," said Meron Eren, Kedem Auction House Founder and co-CEO. “We know of only two other similar Hebrew manuscripts, and we can say that neither comes close to the size and magnificence of this manuscript. It is the most unique we’ve ever seen."