A Hebrew Bible dating back to 1476 is among 130 priceless objects in a new exhibition open to the public in Oxford.
The exhibition, entitled Marks of Genius, showcases masterpieces from the collections of the Bodleian Libraries, a priceless gathering of outstanding world treasures.
The event at the newly-renovated Weston Library runs for six months. A condensed version of the exhibition, featuring 62 items, ran at the Morgan Library in New York last year and was described by the New York Times as “A history of awesome in one room”.
Other exhibits that will be on display in Oxford include an original conducting score of Handel’s Messiah from 1741, one of four engrossments of Magna Carta held by the Bodleian Libraries from 1217 and a copy of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke from 1611.
The Kennicott Hebrew Bible was made for a wealthy young patron, Don Isaac, and is the product of rich scribal and artistic traditions. The scribe, Moses Ibn Zabarah, wrote the text in a square Sephardi script, adopting a standard two-column format. For Psalms, shown in the image above, he adopted an older tradition, whereby combinations of long and short lines, centred and right-justified lines, are arranged in single columns.
Each psalm is set apart from the previous one by the central placing of the first line. The artist, Joseph Ibn Hayyim, adorned the text with carpet pages, panels and numerous decorative motifs. The Bible is in its original box binding, made from wood covered in goatskin, which is blind tooled with interlacing geometric designs on all six sides.
The Kennicott Bible is one of the most lavish mediaeval Spanish manuscripts in existence and is named after the after Benjamin Kennicott, the English Hebraist (1718-1783), a scholar of the Hebrew bible and canon of Christ Church, Oxford.
The exhibit’s Richard Ovenden said: “This exhibition in the newly-refurbished Weston Library helps us to explore the elusive quality of genius. This space, where scholars gather to research our collections, is a wonderful setting in which to enjoy these masterpieces.”