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Rare and Unique Haggadot at NYPL
Hamburg Haggadah, 1731. The sages in Bene Barak discussing the Exodus all night. Dorot Jewish Division, The New York Public Library.

NEW YORK.- Spanning nearly eight centuries, from scribal to print culture, the exhibition I Am the Rose: Passover Imagined in the Collections of The New York Public Library brings together a treasure trove of Passover-related manuscripts, books, and prints. With this exhibition, the Library celebrates the addition of a distinguished 20th-century example to its vast holdings of illuminated manuscripts and artists' books, the gift of New York philanthropists Frederick and Sandra Rose, Daniel and Joanna Rose, and Elihu and Susan Rose and their families. For over fifty years, the family has commissioned a host of prominent artists, from Jack Levine to Frank Stella to Larry Rivers to Al Hirschfeld, to produce contemporary interpretations of classic haggadah themes for the extended family's annual seder. The fruits of these unique annual commissions, three gorgeously-illustrated manuscript volumes, are exhibited for the first time at The New York Public Library, along with Passover-related materials drawn primarily from the Library's Dorot Jewish Division. Opening the week before Passover, the exhibition will be on view in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, from April 20 through June 4, 2005. Admission is free.

Retracing the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery and their exodus from Egypt, the Haggadah furnishes the text for the Passover ritual celebrated in the home. From the Middle Ages to the present, the text has been the object of sometimes lavish decoration.

"Passover, perhaps the most fundamental of the great celebrations of Western civilization, is also in a sense the most pervasively symbolic," says Michael Terry, Dorot Chief Librarian of the Dorot Jewish Division and curator of the exhibition. "Passover ritual is all about representation -- representing the defining moment in Jewish history, through speaking, singing, acting, and, as far back as the most primitive Passover gesture of all, smearing a lamb's blood on the doorposts through painting. The Rose Haggadah stands firmly in the tradition of the sumptuous illuminated manuscript haggadot of the 15th-century Mediterranean and 18th-century Germany. The addition of this modern manuscript to the Library's Dorot Jewish Division provides a wonderful complement to our antiquarian holdings."

A wide range of materials from The New York Public Library's Dorot Jewish Division, Rare Books Division, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Spencer Collection, and the Print Collection of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs is represented in the exhibition. The works on display include a 13th-century Samaritan Bible; a 15th-century illuminated manuscript haggadah; a copy of Thomas Murner's Rite and Manner of Celebration of the Jews' Passover , the first truly illustrated printed haggadah (although written in Latin, by a leading Franciscan friar, scholar, and writer, who engraved the woodcuts as well); illustrations by preeminent artists of the early twentieth-century fine printing revival, such as Eric Gill; and, by way of contrast, representations of Passover anti-Semitism in the form of images, dating from the 15 th to the 20 th centuries, that relate to the grotesque Blood Libel.

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