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Behold, you are beautiful, my love: the use of ornamental frames in Hebrew Incunabula.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely. (Song of Songs 1:15-16)

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves behind your veil. You are all beautiful, my love; there is no blemish in you. (Song of Songs 4:1, 7).

You are beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. (Song of Songs 6:4)

Who is she that looks forth like the dawn, beautiful like the moon, bright like the sun, and awesome like an army with banners? (Song of Songs 6:10)

AMONG the most beautiful frames to appear in Hebrew books is the artistic border first employed in Rashi's Perush Rashi al ha-Torah (Soncino, 1487) and in the editio princeps of the Hebrew Bible (1488), both printed by Joshua Solomon Soncino. This border had been employed previously in Aesop's Fables (Naples, 1485), translated and edited by Francesco del Tuppo, and would subsequently be employed in several additional Hebrew books. This article describes the varied use of that attractive frame and other artistic borders used with Hebrew books in the incunabular period.

Hebrew incunabula are not normally considered as or associated with works of art. Nevertheless, a review of those first books, cradle books, printed by pioneers and artisans of considerable skill, suggests otherwise. (1) While it is certainly true that general works on printing history often do overlook He brew printing that is not to suggest that it is a neglected subject. In fact, there is a rich literature on the subject, but one that only infrequently seems to penetrate into or be accounted by more general works. Similarly, Jewish book art suffers from the same relative neglect. In the latter case, there was even an attractive journal dedicated to the subject as well as numerous articles on various aspects of Jewish art, including works from the incunabular period.

In this article we will concentrate on one aspect of this art, the use of beautiful artistic frames in Hebrew incunabula, albeit limited in number, in a comprehensive manner. This article enumerates the Hebrew books with, and describes the frames employed on, those first fruits of the Hebrew presses of the fifteenth century. Also provided are a limited number of examples, for illustrative purposes, of other decorative material used by the pioneer Hebrew printers.

The primary source for this study is the Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae Saeculi XV compiled by Aron Freimann and Moses Marx. (1a) The Thesaurus, a monumental work, is an eight-part collection of 332 plates of facsimiles of representative pages of more than 100 Hebrew incunabula, the first fruit of thirty Hebrew printers in about twenty locations. It includes a small number of doubtful works, that is, books that may not have been incunabula, and it certainly is incomplete. Several later works have added new titles to the list of known Hebrew incunabula and raised questions as to others. Nevertheless, for our purpose, which is not to compile a census but to describe the books with artistic frames, the Thesaurus remains the most thorough work on the subject.

To put these early illustrated pages in context, it should be appreciated, as is well known, that the first printed books attempted to replicate manuscripts. Codices lacked title-pages, the first leaf normally being left blank to protect the book, that page later becoming a dedicated page providing the title and author name. Indeed, the first book with these concise identifiers, known as label titles, was the Bul zu dutsch (Papal letter in German, Mainz, 1463), followed by Sermo adpopularum (Cologne, 1470). It soon developed into a more detailed title-page, one with a two-color decorative border, the Calendarium of Johannes Regiomontanus, appearing in 1476 (Venice), being a fifty-five year calendar (1475-1530) printed by Johannes Regiomontanus. (2) The first Hebrew book with a title-page is the Sefer ha-Roke'ah (Fano, 1505) of R. Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (c. 1165-c. 1230).

Printers often enhanced the attractiveness of the first text page of a book by the use of artistic frames or by beginning the text with historiated letters. Within the text illustrations, charts, and diagrams were employed, depend ing on the subject matter and requirements of the book. How were these woodcuts employed? D. C. Greetham informs us that the illustrator, like the punchcutter, cut away everything but those parts of the illustrations to be printed on the paper. By doing so, the woodcut could be printed in the same manner and at the same time as the text of the book. "This made printing an illustrated book comparatively easy, for a single 'pull' at the press (from the motion necessary at the handle of the press-screw to lower the platen onto the paper) could provide both words and picture, instead of having to print them separately." (1b) While a woodcut could deteriorate from repeated use, the rate of deterioration was dependent upon such factors as the hardness of the wood and delicacy of lines. Overall, according to Arthur M. Hind, a fairly large number of impressions could be expected if care was used with moderate-sized editions of books. Woodcuts were reused by printers, often the original blocks, but copies were also made onto other blocks, and then passed on to other printers, at times even in other countries. (2a)

After much reuse an active printer might discontinue use of a frame, having, in a manner of speaking, saturated his market. A frame that was well-known to the Italian market, and therefore less valuable to another Italian printer, would be new, and therefore of value, to the Hebrew book market. Furthermore, although the theme of these frames, that is, the representation of human or mythological figures, is inconsistent with Jewish beliefs, they obviously were not offensive to Renaissance Jewish sensibilities, although this would not be the case at other times or in different places. Furthermore, in most but not all instances the Jewish printer acquired the frame because the smaller market for Hebrew books did not normally justify the expense of commissioning a new woodcut.

What were the Hebrew books printed with artistic frames? Seven frames, appearing on eighteen titles (including two almost simultaneous editions of Sefer ha-Shorashim), are reproduced in the Thesaurus. (3) Two works with facsimiles in the Thesaurus, a Torah with megillot and Megillat Antochus and Meshal ha-Kadmoni, lack the text pages with a border. The majority of the decorative borders are from Italian presses, two are from Portugal/ Spain. In Italy, the Soncinos, initially Joshua Solomon and later his nephews Gershom and Solomon, made use of artistic frames in several of their books. Their employ of these woodcuts is illustrative of how Jewish printers, having obtained woodcuts, made use of them, given the difference in layout between Hebrew and non-Hebrew texts, the former reading from right to left, the latter from left to right, resulting in technical considerations for page layout.



The Soncino family, among the foremost pioneers of Hebrew printing, began their distinguished career when Joshua Solomon ben Israel Nathan Soncino, who traced his ancestry to the medieval Tosafot, published tractate Berakhot from the Babylonian Talmud in 1483/84 in the town of Soncino, from which the family takes its name. That tractate, excluding possible undated Spanish tractates, was the first Talmudic treatise to be printed. It was followed immediately afterwards by tractate Bezah (1484). These tractates, as well as the other volumes of the Talmud printed by the Soncinos, are of significance, as they established the format of the Talmudic page, a combination of text and exegetical works, followed to this day, although foliation follows the editioprinceps of Daniel Bomberg (Venice, 1519/20-23). (1c) Both tractates, as are all of the works printed by the family, are distinguished by the high quality of the workmanship, attractive fonts, and here by the borders about the initial words.

In both Berakhot [Fig. 1] and Bezah [Fig. 2] the opening words are in large ornamental letters, surrounded by a frame composed of an attractive floral arrangement, described by Joseph Reider as "rinceaux and similar interlacing patterns customary in French medieval manuscripts and prints."

The same frame was used in both treatises. However, the top and bottom sides of the borders, with their distinctive floral arrangements, were transposed. Furthermore, since the first word of Berakhot is longer than the first word of Bezah, the space in the latter treatise was filled by two hare illustrations, at each end of the word, facing inward. These borders and letters were re-used in a number of Soncino incunabular publications, particularly their editions of the Bible, modified to accommodate the requirements of the texts of each work, and the hare motif appears in books printed by Gershom Soncino in the sixteenth century. (1d)

In 1487, Joshua Soncino printed Rashi's (R. Solomon ben Isaac, Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105) commentary on the Torah, Perush Rashi al ha-Torah. This edition of what has consistently been the most influential Torah commentary, as popular today as it was when first written and frequently republished, is dated 15 Sivan [5]247 (Wednesday, 6 June 1487). (2b) It was printed as a folio, as were all the works with this artistic frame. The text is in the rabbinic type known today as Rashi letters. Parenthetically, the first printed edition of Rashi (Rome, c. 1470) was set in square Ashkenazic letters. Soncino next used the frame in 1488 with a complete Biblia Hebraica (Hebrew Bible), finished on 11 Iyyar [5] 248 (22 April 1488). (3a) The completion date is after the Torah portion, suggesting that the other parts of the Bible were printed first. Although Joshua Solomon, and others as well, had previously printed books of the Bible, this Soncino Bible is the first complete Hebrew Bible to be printed in one volume. It is comprised of 380 leaves, 4 blanks, the text, in two columns, and is based on German and Franco-German manuscripts. The first words of all biblical books, excepting Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel, and Kings begin with ornamental woodcut letters. The exceptions have spaces left for scribal decorations or illuminations. The first page of the book of Joshua has the artistic border. (4) A blank wreath at the bottom of the frame allows the owner to enter a personal name or family escutcheon.


This frame was, as noted above, previously used in Aesop's Fables (Vita et Fabulae, Naples, 1485) translated and edited by Francesco del Tuppo and printed at his press by three Germani fidelissimi [Fig. 3]. (5) That edition, used to instruct children in reading skills, is lavishly illustrated. It appears unchanged in Perush Rashi and the Soncino Bible of 1488 [Fig. 4]. The artistic border is described by Reider as having "motives from Christian allegory and mythology into the title-pages of their books. Rashi's commentary to the Pentateuch, Soncino 1487, in addition to the motives mentioned above, exhibits also a wreath of flowers with cherubim on both sides and a St. Michael battling the dragon." (1e) Cecil Roth describes the frame as "a splendid white-on-black engraved border, of typical Renaissance design, depicting naked and winged putti, who are disporting themselves on an intricate floral background." Both Roth and Abraham Habermann inform us that it was necessary to place the frame on the verso of the page rather than the more customary recto (first page) due to the proportions of the margins. Habermann explains,

When a Hebrew printer wished to make use of a border prepared for a Latin book, he was hence faced with a delicate problem of adjustment. This might be solved in various ways. He might simply disregard it and use the border in the conventional position, regardless of the unaesthetic effect created by having the narrower border outside; or he might forgo its use at the beginning of the volume and insert it at some convenient place later on--perhaps on the verso of the first page; or highly conscientious, he might have the entire border recut, at considerable expense, to suit the requirements of the Hebrew books; or, somewhat barbarically, he might cut the border into four pieces and rearrange it with the wide margin outside. ... (1f)




In the next four works in which the frame was used it was by the last expedient, that is cutting the frame and moving the pieces to allow placement of the frame on the recto. The four titles, all printed in Soncino, are tractates, Hullin and Niddah (1489), Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (1490), and the Arba'ah Turim (1487) [Fig. 5]. (2c) The printer of the tractates is unclear, whether it was Joshua, Gershom, or both, while the Mishneh Torah is attributed to Gershom, the Arba'ah Turim to Solomon. We also find some of the decorative material used previously, including the hare, here reused with the Mishneh Torah [Fig. 6].

The Soncinos left Soncino in about 1490 relocating for a short time in Naples. Habermann suggests that the reasons for their move was that Soncino was a small city as opposed to the important port of Naples which was an important commercial center and, moreover, the climate in Soncino had changed making that location less comfortable for a Hebrew press. They did not print a large number of titles in Naples, nine are known but there may well have been more. (3b) Of that number two are of interest to us, R. David Kimhi's (Radak) Sefer ha-Shorashim, a Bible, and perhaps a third, Psalms.

However, before describing those titles it should be noted that when the Soncinos arrived in Naples there already was an active Hebrew press in that city.

Naples is not normally associated with Hebrew printing, but it was briefly, in the incunabular period, an important site of Hebrew presses. Naples, in the fifteenth century, was home, albeit for a short time, to an important Jewish community and to Hebrew presses that published more incunabula in any single location in a decade excepting Soncino. The impetus for Jewish settlement in Naples in the last decade of the fifteenth century was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the welcome given them by the Kings of Naples, Ferdinand I (1485-94) and his son Alfonso II (1494-95). Jews published and marketed books in Greek, Latin, and Arabic as well as Hebrew. The first printer of Hebrew books in Naples was Joseph ben Jacob Ashkenazi Gunzenhauser. His name, Gunzenhauser, is taken from Joseph's Bavarian birthplace, Gunzenhausen. He had learned the printers' craft in Rome, coming from there to Naples in 1486. Joseph died in mid 1490, being succeeded at the press by his son Azriel and a daughter. (1g)

Gunzenhauser too would publish books with decorative frames. Four titles with artistic borders are attributed to the Gunzenhauser press. They are R. Moses ben Nahman's Perush al ha-Torah, Radak's Sefer ha-Shorashim, R. Jacob Landau's Divrei Agur and Rabbenu Bahya's Perush al ha-Torah. An additional title, Psalms, may be the same as the edition attributed above to Soncino. These titles employed different borders, but in varied ways, not cutting the frame to fit as was done with the del Tuppo border, but apparently cutting the frame anew to provide a completely new copy of the frame. Furthermore, the two presses, despite the presumed rivalry between Soncino and Gunzenhauser, appear to have employed the same frame in several of their books. Moreover, Habermann writes that a prayer book (1490) according to the Sephardic rite was printed by Joshua Solomon for Joseph Gunzenhauser. A third Naples printer is noted by Joshua Bloch, Isaac ben Judah ben David ibn Katorzo, originally from Catalayud in Aragon, Spain. Bloch credits ibn Katorzo with two of the titles that we are concerned with, Ramban's Perush al ha-Torah and Radak's Sefer ha-Shorashim. The former work is attributed by other bibliographers to Gunzenhauser. Indeed, in a recent census of Hebrew incunabula in public collections by A. K. Offenberg, both titles have the attributions noted above with no mention being made of an ibn Katorzo press. Habermann suggests that Katorzo was Joseph's associate for the two books, his name not appearing in any other work. (2d) This is not the only difficulty in determining the printer of the Perush al ha-Torah, for while Freidberg, Freimann, Offenberg, and others see Gunzenhauser as the printer, yet others, such as Goldstein and Berkowitz, record Ramban's Perush al ha-Torah as a Soncino imprint. (1h)

Perhaps the confusion, in the absence of identifying information in the colophons, can be attributed to the cooperation between the presses, this despite their reputed competition. Bloch notes that despite being distinct there is a similarity in the types of the presses and that proofreaders and compositors moved between presses. He suggests, "It may therefore be plausible to assume that during the fifteenth century Naples had no more than one Hebrew press--that of Gunzenhausen [sic]--from which all Hebrew books printed in that city were issued ... and the other Neapolitan publishers of Hebrew books such as Soncino and Katorzo may have availed themselves of the services of that press for those books which they had published." (2e)

The first Naples title with an artistic frame is R. Moses ben Nahman's (Ramban, Nahmanides, 1194-1270) Perush al ha-Torah, a classic and pro-found commentary on the Torah. (3c) It appears to have been mostly written in Spain and was either completed or at least emended in Eretz Israel. Ramban states his purpose as "satisfying the needs of students who, weary of the exile and woes, read the sedrah (weekly Torah portion) on the Sabbath and holidays, to better understand it, to rejoice their hearts with pleasant and satisfying explanations." His intent is to strengthen the resolve and console the hearts of his readers. Perush al ha-Torah [Fig. 7], dated 13 Tamuz--[TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII] [250] (2 July 1490). "Your word is a lamp to my feet" (Psalm 119:105) is printed with an elaborate decorative frame comprised of an intertwined floral design, winged putti, and a lion rampant against a black background. Hind writes that this border, referring to the del Tuppo Aesop, "is a modified version of the same design in which a cow's head is added in the upper border, and in which the cupid on the right armed with sword and buckler attacks a large lion rampant." He suggests that the woodcut was prepared by a craftsman from the north, his style showing kinship with Netherlandish woodcuts. (4a)


A second title was printed with this border, R. David Kimhi's (Radak, Maistre Petit, c. 1160-c. 1235) lexicon, the Sefer ha-Shorashim (Book of Roots). Radak, a renowned grammarian, was also an accomplished exegete, poet, translator, and polemicist. Indeed, Radak, the most illustrious member of a distinguished family of grammarians, excelled in a variety of fields, but most notably as a Bible commentator and grammarian. Shorashim is actually the second part of Radak's Mikhlol, the first part, dealing with grammar (helek ha-dikduk), and which came to be known by the name of the whole (Mikhlol), and this, the lexical portion, being the helek ha-inyan, known as the Shorashim (roots). The popularity of this lexicography is attested to by its numerous editions and its wide influence, including Christian-Hebraists who studied and often quoted it. Sefer ha-Shorashim is among the first printed Hebrew books, the first edition being among the undated books issued in Rome c. 1470.


Sefer ha-Shorashim was printed twice in Naples in a short span of time in two editions that vary considerably [Figs. 8a-8b]. The first Naples edition was printed by Gunzenhauser and completed in Elul [5]250 (18 August-15 September 1490). The second edition was printed by Joshua Solomon Soncino and completed, according to the colophon, on Thursday Rosh Hodesh Adar [5]251 (10 February 1491). This is the opinion of Bloch, Friedberg, and Offenberg, but Habermann records both editions as Soncino imprints. Lazarus Goldschmidt caustically refutes Habermann, but that is beyond the scope of this article. (1i)


In contrast to the similar frame employed on the previous titles, all folios in format, the following two titles, Divrei ha-Agur and Tehillim (Psalms), have a like frame but are quarto in format [Fig. 9]. (2f) R. Jacob Baruch ben Judah Landau, author of Divrei ha-Agur, worked for a time as a proofreader at the Gunzenhausen press. He wrote ha-Agur, a concise halakhic compendium, for his distinguished student, Ezra ben David Ovadiah ha-Rofeh, whose time for Talmud was limited by his studies of physics and metaphysics, necessitating a more concise work to instruct him in his Jewish studies. Ha-Agur reflects the Ashkenaz tradition in halakhah and minhag. Apart from its intrinsic value, ha-Agur is the first Hebrew book to have approbations. (3d) Furthermore, it was the second Hebrew book published in the lifetime of its author, the first being R. Judah ben Jehiel's (Messer Leon) Nofet Zufim (Mantua, before 1480) and the first book to contain rabbinic approbations. The text is accompanied by a second work by Landau, Sefer Hazon, a small book of talmudic conundrums.

The second work with this frame is an edition of Psalms printed together

with Job and Proverbs. The colophon dates completion of the work to Sunday, 29 Kislev: "A Song of Maalot of David. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, let Israel now say [TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII]--[5]251 (12 December 1490)" (Psalm 124:1). This biblical book has been attributed to both the press of Joshua Solomon Soncino and to that of Azriel Gunzenhauser. If Soncino did print the volume, it would be yet another example of the two presses sharing material. The frame is identical to that with Divrei ha-Agur. However, the center, where the text appears in the latter work is entirely blank in Psalms.

The next frame to appear in Italian incunabular Hebrew books was used with R. Bahya ben Asher ben Hlava's (Rabbenu Bahya, thirteenth century) Perush al ha-Torah (Be'ur al ha-Torah) and a Biblia Hebraica, the former printed by Azriel Gunzenhauser, the latter by Joshua Solomon Soncino. (1j) Bahya, completed on 8 Tamuz "When the morning stars sang [TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII] ([5] 252, i.e. Tuesday, 3 July 1492) together" (Job 38:7), begins each Torah portion with a quote from Proverbs followed by a relevant homily. The commentary is rich, encyclopedic, and clearly written with considerable ethical content and emphasis. Bahya, as he remarks in the introduction, divides his commentary into four parts, that is, 1) the literal meaning, 2) homiletic, based on midrashim, 3) sekhel (philosophic), to show that the Torah encompasses all wisdom, and 4) kabbalistic, esoteric interpretations.


This Biblia Hebraica is the second complete Hebrew Bible. It is reputed that the previous 1488 Bible having been sold out--Johan Reuchlin's agents were unable to find a copy in 1491--Soncino recognized the need for a new edition. He therefore printed this Bible in c. 1492 as a 434-leaf folio, one and two columns, 28-31 lines. This Bible is the first Hebrew book to have numbered folios, in Hebrew, on the verso of each page. It may also be the first Hebrew book with printed signatures. Berkowitz writes that most of the errors in the first edition have been corrected "but not without introducing some new ones." He also notes that while the volume lacks a colophon, typographical and textual evidence clearly indicate that it was published by the Soncino press. Roth quotes Lazarus Goldschmidt's description of this Bible as "surpassing all Bible editions not only of that but also of later times in artistic and typographic beauty." (2g)

Both Bahya's Perush al ha-Torah [Fig. 10] and this Biblia Hebraica [Fig. 11] share a similar engraved woodcut. It appears on the first text pages of the first three books of the Torah in the Perush and in the Bible on the first text pages of Genesis and Joshua. It consists of an intricate branch work, a hunting scene, winged putti, one mounted on a horse, another on a stag, and yet a third blowing a horn. In addition, there are hounds pursuing a deer and hare, and a peacock on the back of a hare. At the bottom is a shield for the owner's escutcheon. In both works a large ornate panel with the first word of text has been inserted into the center space above the remaining text. In Joshua, however, the large inserted panel is missing and the first word is in historiated letters.


The frames in the Perush and the Biblia Hebraica are not identical, however, for in the former work the wider margin is on the right, whereas in the Bible it is on the left. As noted earlier, for a Hebrew book the wider margin should be on the left and the thinner inner margin on the right. (1k) In this instance, however, the frame has not been adjusted but rather recut for the Hebrew book. Alexander Marx notes that the maker of the woodcut is identified in the Perush as Moses ben Isaac, Azriel Gunzenhauser's brother-in-law, the sole instance in which the name of the artisan is mentioned. Habermann suggests that Moses ben Isaac may also have cut the letters for the book as well as the frame for the Agur. Marx also informs us that this border was employed in the Aquila Volante ascribed to Leonardo Aretino and published by Aiolfo de Cantoni, completed on 27 June 1492. Cantoni's completion date precedes that of the Bahya, and moreover the frame appears three times in the latter work. However, in the last two occurrences a small piece is broken off of the top of the inner margin on the right side. Marx concludes that "in the beginning of the book it is complete as in Arentino. Therefore it must have been used in the latter work first." (2h)

Another difference, again indicative of the close relationship between the two presses, concerns the ornate panel on the first text page. Roth reports that the panel is not identical in all copies of Bahya'a Perush. In the Trinity College, Cambridge, copy of that work, it is larger and of coarser workmanship and does not fit with the border as well. Roth concludes that it was an early impression and that later on Gunzenhauser borrowed Soncino's more delicate panel. (3e)

It is not known with certainty how many Hebrew books were printed in Naples or when the Hebrew presses in that city closed. Bloch suggests that printing continued until 1494 when the Jewish community of that city had its property confiscated and its presses closed, Naples having come under the rule of Ferdinand of Spain. He concludes, "Many of the Hebrew publications produced by those presses were then destroyed and nothing is known of them now." It is not clear that the order of expulsion was carried out at that time, for it is known that the Jews were definitely expelled in 1510 with some exceptions, such as New Christians and wealthy Jews, who were forced to leave in following years. Nevertheless, Hebrew printing ceased and has never resumed in Naples.

The final book with a decorative border, one unlike any of those previously addressed, is another edition of the Arba'ah Turim. (4b) That work is the comprehensive halakhic masterpiece of R. Jacob ben Asher (Ba'al ha-Turim, Tur, c. 1270-1340) that is the basis of subsequent codes to the present. The Arba'ah Turim (Four Rows) is concerned with laws currently applicable, omitting those inoperative in the absence of the Temple. The Arba'ah Turim (Four Rows) is divided into four parts: Orah Hayyim, laws applicable from rising to retiring for weekdays, Sabbath, and festivals; Yoreh De'ah, on issur ve-hetter (dietary laws), oaths, usury, and mourning; Even ha-Ezer, matrimonial law, such as divorce and betrothal, as well as other matters relating to women; and Hoshen Mishpat, on civil law, testimony, and other personal and business matters.

This edition of the Arba'ah Turim, printed as a quarto, includes a segment, the left frame, consisting of unclothed putti below, ascending, and atop a tree [Fig. 12; cf. Fig. 5]. The dating of this work is uncertain. Moses Marx makes a strong and multi-faceted argument based on the typography and other internal factors that it is indeed an incunabulum. He notes the likeness of the characters with the previous edition and that "this volume is the only one to show again the five woodcut letters for the word JeHUDaH from Solomon's Tur edition in the corresponding place at the beginning of the book. The small edition also shows its derivation from the folio edition in the complete absence of all punctuation, commas as well as periods, common to both. These two books are the only ones issued by any Soncino press with this peculiarity." (1l) He does note that while a "true copy" of the prior edition it is finer than the folio.


Offenberg, who is both "'conservative' and 'cautious,'" excludes this edition of the Arba'ah Turim from his census of incunables. (2i) Most critical is Lazarus Goldschmidt, citing several bibliographers who do not believe this edition of the Arba'ah Turim is an incunabulum. He then writes, in contradistinction to Marx, that "the letters of the first word cut in wood, apparently taken from the Soncino edition of c. 1490, are supposed to indicate that both works originated from the same printer and appeared at about the same time. A more detailed examination, however, reveals at once that the type is not the same but has been cut after those of the Soncino edition so that exactly the opposite is established." Goldschmidt suggests that the style of the border is pure Venetian and has been "taken over from GUARINUS VERONESIS Grammaticales Regulae, Venezia 1488 ... and is entirely unknown in Hebrew incunables." (3f)

We turn now to the Iberian Peninsula, where we find two attractive borders that appear in four titles published by three printers. Hebrew printing began in Spain as early as 1476 in Guadalajara when Solomon ben Moses ha-Levi ibn Alkabez, the eponymous grandfather of the kabbalist R. Solomon ben Moses Alkabez, author of Lekhah Dodi, the hymn sung by Jewish communities throughout the world to greet the Sabbath, published Perush

Rashi al ha-Torah. Dated 16 Elul, 5236 (5 September 1476), it is the oldest surviving Sephardic imprint. Alkabitz published at least sixteen titles and perhaps more, including Talmudic tractates. Another contemporary press, possibly earlier though its output is less certain, is that of Juan de Lucena, who reputedly printed in Montalban, near Toledo. The first Hebrew title printed in Portugal--and the first book printed in that land--was a Pentateuch, printed in Faro c. 1486 by Don Samuel Porteira with the support of Samuel Gacon. The first known Latin title, the Breviarium Bracarense, was printed in Braga by Johann Gherling in 1494, and the first vernacular book appeared only in 1495. (1m)


The first Sephardic title with an artistic frame is a Torah with haftarot and megillot printed in 1487-48 in Hijar, Aragon by Eliezer ben Abraham Alantansi. Eliezer was a multi-faceted person, being a scholar, businessman, and physician. He established his press in partnership with Solomon ben Maimon Zalmati of Jativa, a successful businessman, goldsmith, and rabbinic scholar, their first title being the Arba'ah Turim (1485-87). Among Zalmati's associates was the Christian Fernandez de Cordoba, a silversmith and typecutter, who is credited with cutting the presses's Hebrew types. Zalmanti and de Cordoba were earlier involved in the production of non-Hebrew books, including the Manuale Ccesaraugustanum (Saragossan Ritual, Hijar, 1486), notable for the attractive delicate decorative border reputedly designed by de Cordoba. This border was afterwards used with the 1487-48 Torah. That volume, a folio ([190] ff.) in format, has the text in set in square unvocalized letters with an attractive font [Fig. 13]. (2j)

With the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 Hebrew printing ceased. Many of the Jewish refugees found temporary respite in Portugal, while others had left Spain earlier. Among the latter was Eliezer ben Jacob Toledano, a pious scholar and wealthy layman from Toledo, who established a Hebrew press in Lisbon that would publish about half a dozen Hebrew books from 1488 through between 1497. At some point Toledano acquired the Alantansi typographical material, among then the frame mentioned above, which appears in two of his books, both folios, Moses ben Nahman's Perush al ha-Torah ([300] ff.) and R. David ben Joseph's Abudarham's Sefer Abudarham ([170] ff.). (3g) In both books the first page with the artistic frame is in a single column, with the remainder of the text set in two columns, both in a cursive Sephardic font.


We have already addressed Moses ben Nahman's Perush al ha-Torah above. The Sefer Abudarham is a classic work on Jewish liturgy. It was composed by David Abudarham in about 1340 in Seville. In his introduction, Abudarham informs us that he wrote this work because people had become unfamiliar with the words and meanings of prayers and customs. His purpose was to state the laws of Jewish prayer, the reasons for them, and to explain their contents. Based on Talmudic and geonic sources, as well on the works of later commentators, Ashekenaz and Provencal, as well as Sephardic, it is a valuable source of works that have not otherwise survived. It also includes a commentary on the Passover Haggadah, the Jewish calendar, and the order of the weekly Torah readings and haftarot for the year. Abudarham is one of a number of books known by the name of its author, having no other title. Perhaps in some cases the name proposed by the author was omitted by the copyist, the work becoming known afterwards by the author's name. Another possibility, appropriate here, is that Abudarham's intent was to join his commentary on Jewish liturgy to a prayer book, so that it did not require a title, and those who came after called it by his name, Sefer Abudarham. Within the book there are tables and charts relating to various subjects [Figs. 14a-14b]. The popularity of the Abudarham remains undiminished to this day.

Returning to the frame, Hind describes it as "a combination of delicate tendril and scroll, with animals and conventional grotesque, it shows definite Islamic influence, and is characteristic of Hispano-Mauresque design. It is comparable with Ratdolt's work ... but the style is carried to an extraordinary finesse in technique." (1n) This frame would continue to be used in the sixteenth century. It appears, for example, on the title-page of the Mishneh Torah printed by David and Samuel Nahmias in Constantinople in 1509.


A final parenthetic word about the Abudarham. It was republished four times in the sixteenth century including a 1517 Fez edition printed by Samuel Nedivot. The Toledano edition served as the copy-text for the typesetters in Fez. So that the Nedivot Abudarham is an exact copy of the Toledano edition, in the beginning and ending of both the pages and the lines on the page, except that in the middle of a long colophon--and it is the only book printed in Fez with a colophon that unquestionably confirms it is a Fez imprint--Nedivot replaces his and his son Isaac's name, the place of publication, that is, Fez, and the date, Kislev, in the year [TEXTO IRREPRODUCIBLE EN ASCII] (5277 = 1516) for the information supplied by Toledano. Nedivot had brought typographical equipment with him from Lisbon to Fez, accounting not only for the likeness in layout, but also for the similarity in the fonts, making the two editions almost indistinguishable. (2k)

The final frame to be addressed in this article is an edition of the Arba'ah Turim Orah Hayyim printed in Leiria in 1493 by Samuel Dortas, together with his three sons [Fig. 15]. Bloch suggests that, based on the coincidence in time, the press was established by refugees from Spain. He finds further support for that assumption in the likeness of the Hebrew types in Leiria with those of Hijar and Lisbon. Friedberg, however, writes that Dortas' name reflects his birthplace, Orthez, in France. The Arba'ah Turim is one of five books known from this press, active from 1492-96, the others being an edition of the Former Prophets with Targum Jonathon, Radak, and Ralbag; R. Yeshu'ah ha-Levi's Halikot Olam; Proverbs with Targum Jonathon and commentaries; and a mahzor. Dortas' press also published Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto's Tabulae tabularum coelestium motuum sive: Almanach Perpetuum, utilized by Columbus in his discovery of America and to predict the eclipse, which so influenced the Jamaican Indians that instead of opposing him they provided him with food. (1o)

The Arba'ah Turim O. H., dated 10 Sivan [5]255 (Tuesday, 2 June 1495), is a folio ([206] ff.) in format. Habermann observes that the origin of the frame with this work is unknown, but it certainly is of Jewish origin. His description of the frame with the Arba'ah Turim, in comparison with the preceding border, is not completely complimentary, for he describes it as a "heavier and less satisfying border ... The somewhat primitive floral and animal tracery here has been adapted to serve as it were by way of illustration to the Rabbinical aphorism quoted at the beginning of the text which it encloses: 'Be thou old (sic.) as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleet as a deer, and valorous as a lion, to do the will of they Father in Heaven.'" As these animals are depicted in the border, he sees evidence that the artist was Jewish from the fact that "Samuel d'Ortas" praises the technical ability of his sons, particularly Abraham, who must have been the responsible artisan. (2l)

This article has addressed the books with artistic frames reproduced in the Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae Saeculi XV. There likely were others not included in the Thesaurus--indeed we have noted two such titles--but that notwithstanding, it gives insight into the artistic activity of Jewish printers in the inucunabular period. These frames enhanced the books in which they were employed and continue to attract us to the present. We can summarize our evaluation of these books by concluding with one of the verses with which we began "You are all beautiful, my love; there is no blemish in you" (Song of Songs 4:1, 7).

Marvin J. Heller's Printing the Talmud: A History of the Individual Treatises Printed from 1700 to 1750 (1999), and The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus (2004) were, respectively, recipients of the 1999 and 2004 Research and Special Libraries Division Award of the Association of Jewish Libraries for Bibliography. His most recent book is The Seventeenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus (2011).

(1.) That this is so was noted by L. Fuks and R. G. Fuks-Mansfeld, who write, "It is a remarkable and regrettable fact that most of the historians of the book and booklore from the oldest times to the present day completely neglect the history of the Jewish book. Most of the handbooks do not even mention the existence of the Hebrew booklore with its ancient and influential history" (Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands 1585-1815 [Leiden: Brill, 1984], 1:1). They then go on to enumerate several works as examples of this neglect, remarking that "we see all kinds of ancient writings and prints, as far away as China, Korea and Japan have been dealt with, but not even a mention of the existence of a Hebrew alphabet, let alone Hebrew handwritten and printed books are mentioned." They do conclude with two books by David Diringer that they say make up for this omission, that is, The Hand-produced Book (London: Philosophical Library, 1953) and The Illuminated Book: Its History and Production (London: Faber & Faber, 1958).

(1a.) Aron Freimann and Moses Marx, Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae Saeculi XV (Berlin-Wilmersdorf: Marx & Co., 1924-1931). A facsimile edition with supplement to Part I with introductory material by Israel Mehlman and Herrmann Mz. Meyer was published later (Jerusalem: The Universitas-Booksellers, 1967-69).

(2.) Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Books, 1995), p. 52; Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Book: The Story of Printing and Bookmaking (New York: Dorset Press, 1989), pp. 561-62.

(1b.) D. C. Greetham, Textual Scholarship: An Introduction (New York and London; Garland Publishing, 1992), p. 137.

(2a.) Arthur M. Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), pp. 14, 16-17.

(3.) The Torah with megillot and Megillat Antochus printed by a Soncino, Thesaurus A70, is reputed have the artistic frame used with the 1492 Bible below. It is not addressed here, as that illustration is absent from both the reproduction and from the copy of the first edition of the Thesaurus examined. The Meshal ha-Kadmoni A76, a profusely illustrated work, was printed by Gershom Soncino in 1491 and 1496. The reproduction, of the first edition only, has the text of that page but lacks the frame.

(1c.) Concerning the development of the Talmudic page, see Marvin J. Heller, "Designing the Talmud: The Origins of the Printed Talmudic Page," Tradition 29, no. 3 (1995): 40-51, repr. in Studies in the Making of the Early Hebrew Book (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2008), pp. 92-105.

(1d.) C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massorectico-Critical Edition of the Bible (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1966), p. 806; Marvin J. Heller, Printing the Talmud: A History of the Earliest Printed Editions of the Talmud (Brooklyn: Im Hasefer, 1992), pp. 66-78; Joseph Reider, "Non-Jewish motives in the ornaments of early Hebrew books," in Studies in Jewish Bibliography in Memory of Abraham Friedus (New York: Alexander Kohut Memorial Foundation, 1929), p. 155. Rinceaux are "an ornamental foliate or floral motif."

(2b.) 6 June 1487 is the Julian date, as are all the dates in the article. The Gregorian equivalent is 15 June 1487.

(3a.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Rashi, Perush Rashi alha-Torah, A42, Biblia Hebraica 1485 A45.

(4.) David Sandler Berkowitz, In Remembrance of Creation: Evolution of Art and Scholarship in the Medieval and Renaissance Bible (Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 1968), p. 78.

(5.) McMurtrie, p. 348. Del Tuppo's tumultuous relationship with a competitive Hebrew printer, as well as the use of this frame, are described by Cecil Roth, "A Jewish Printer in Naples, 1477," in Studies in Books and Booklore: Essays in Jewish Bibliography and Allied Subjects (Farnborough, England.: Gregg International Publishers, 1972), pp.59-70.

(1e.) Reider, p, 155.

(1f.) Abraham M. Habermann, "The Jewish Art of the Printed Book," in Jewish Art: An Illustrated History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), col. 464; Roth, p. 64. In the following century Hebrew books were also printed with cut frames that were aesthetically pleasing. The left and right borders in these books are of equal size and the cuts are not due to differences between Hebrew and Latin. For example, in the Decachordum Christianum (Fano, 1507), considered the most beautiful book printed by Gershom, there are ten full page woodcuts, prepared by two artists, as well as thirty vignettes. There are, however, essentially only two frames made up of four parts. Each frame is comprised of identical left and right margins, which can be combined with combinations of the upper and lower borders, which are not all of uniform size. The use of movable pieces in the frame, rather than a single unit, permits the rearrangement of the component parts, giving the appearance of variation, and provides flexibility, so that the woodcut portions for the top or bottom of the frame can be arranged aesthetically to accommodate longer or shorter text within the border. These borders were employed afterwards in almost all of Gershom's Hebrew folio titles and in his Latin titles, in the many locations in which he printed. The frames from the Decachordum were subsequently used by Gershom's son Eliezer Soncino, and then by Moses ben Eliezer Parnas, who acquired the Soncino press, being employed in Constantinople into the mid-sixteenth century. (Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 1:26-27.

(2c.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Arba'ah Turim, A56. Concerning the Arba'ah Turim, see below.

(3b.) Abraham M. Habermann, The History of the Hebrew Book: From Marks to Letters: From Scroll to Book (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1968), p. 88 [Hebrew].

(1g.) Joshua Bloch, "Hebrew Printing in Naples" Bulletin of the New York Public Library 46 (1942): 489-514, repr. in Hebrew Printing and Bibliography (New York: New York Public Library, 1976), pp. 111-38; Ch. B. Friedberg, History of Hebrew Typography in Italy, Spain--Portugal and the Turkey, from its Beginning and Formation about the Year 1470 (Tel Aviv: Bar-Yuda, 1956), pp. 40-41 [Hebrew].

(2d.) Bloch, pp. 122-23; A. K. Offenberg, Hebrew Incunabula in Public Collections: A First International Census (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1990), pp. 130-31, 140, 189.

(1h.) Berkowitz, p. 79:135; Freidberg, p. 45 ; Freimann, A65; David Goldstein, Hebrew Incunables in the British Isles: A Preliminary Census (London: British Library, 1985), p. 21:57; Habermann, History of the Hebrew Book, pp. 91, 96; Offenberg, p. 130:98.

(2e.) Bloch, p. 123.

(3c.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Moses ben Nahman, Perush al ha-Torah, A65, R. David Kimhi, Sefer ha-Shorashim, A69.

(4a.) Berkowitz, pp. 79-80; Hind, pp. 405, 408.

(1i.) Bloch, pp. 19-20; Lazarus Goldschmidt, Hebrew Incunables: A Bibliographical Essay (Oxford: B. H. Blackwell, 1948), pp. 46-48, 72; Friedberg, pp. 45, 48; Abraham Habermann, "The Printers Benei Soncino," in Studies in the History of Hebrew Printers and Books (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1978), pp. 33, 35 [Hebrew]; Offenberg, pp. 137-38. The Thesaurus records both editions of Sefer ha-Shorashim as Soncino imprints but, although it reproduces pages from the two editions, records them as a single printing with the same date, 10 February 1491. These edition of ha-Shorashim are the second and third printings of that work, it having been first printed in about 1469, among the first Hebrew books to be printed.

(2f.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Divrei ha-Agur, A67, Tehillim A68.

(3d.) Aryeh Tauber, Bibliographical Studies, Special Supplement to Kiryat Sefer 9 (1932): p. 16 [Hebrew].

(1j.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Rabbenu Bahya, Perush al ha-Torah, A74, Biblia Hebraica, A75.

(2g.) Berkowitz, pp. 820-83; Lazarus Goldschmidt, The Earliest Editions of the Hebrew Bible (New York: Aldus Books, 1950), p. 23, quoted in Cecil Roth, "The Border of the Naples Bible of 1492," in Studies in Books and Booklore, op. cit., pp. 72-73.

(1k.) Roth, "The Border of the Naples Bible," pp. 74-75.

(2h.) Habermann, History of the Hebrew Book, p. 96; Alexander Marx, "The Literature of Hebrew Incunabula," Studies in Jewish Book History and Booklore (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1944), pp. 290-91.

(3e.) Roth, "The Border of the Naples Bible," p. 77.

(4b.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Arba'ah Turim, A85.

(1l.) Moses Marx, "Gershom Soncino. Contributions to the History of his Life and his Printing," in Sefer ha-Yovel: A Tribute to Professor Alexander Marx by Colleagues ... (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1943), pp. II-III.

(2i.) Offenberg, p. xiii.

(3f.) Goldschmidt, pp. 25-28. The other bibliographers Goldschmidt cites are Steinscneider, Sacchi, and Schwab. Goldschmidt suggests that the impetus to classify a book as an incunable is that "as opposed to beautiful women the older the incunable the more desirable it becomes."

(1m.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Torah with haftarot and megillot, B12. Concerning the Alkabez press and de Lucena presses, see Joshua Bloch, "Early Hebrew Printing in Spain and Portugal," in Hebrew Printing and Bibliography, op. cit., pp. 14-18; Friedberg, pp. 91-96. On Faro, see Bloch, pp. 26-30, and Friedberg, p. 101.

(2j.) Bloch, Spain, pp. 19-26; Cecil Roth, "Jewish Printers of Non-Jewish Books in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries," in Studies in Books and Booklore, op. cit., pp. 45-49. De Cordoba was sentenced to death in absentia by the Inquisition in Valencia, he having already fled. The sentence was later suspended by the governor and abrogated by the king. Bloch quotes Haebler's suggestion that among the reasons for the sentence was that de Cordoba had designed the Hebrew fonts used by the Hijar press. Roth dismisses this suggestion as being "completely out of the question." His close association with Jews caused him to be suspected of belonging to a Marrano family.

(3g.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Moses ben Nahman, Perush al ha-Torah, B18, Sefer Abudarham, B19.

(1n.) Hind, p. 746. Erhard Ratdolt (1442-1528) was a printer in Augsberg, for a period in Venice (1476-86), and again in Augsberg. His typography and woodcuts are much admired.

(2k.) Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus (Leiden: Brill, 2004), pp. 102-03.

(1o.) Thesaurus Typographiae Hebraicae, Arba'ah Turim Orah Hayyim, B29. Bloch, "Early Hebrew Printing in Spain and Portugal," pp. 36-35; Friedberg, pp. 105-06.

(2l.) Habermann, "The Jewish Art of the Printed Book," col. 463.
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Date:Jul 1, 2011
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