Joel ben Simeon

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JOEL BEN SIMEON (called Feibush Ashkenazi ), scribe and illuminator active in Germany and Italy in the second half of the 15th century. Of German origin, probably from Cologne or Bonn, he established a workshop in northern Italy. In his signed manuscripts he referred to himself as a sofer ("scribe"), lavlar ("scrivener"), and a ẓayyar ("painter"). Probably he himself was not the copyist and illuminator of all the manuscripts signed by him, but he was head of an atelier which moved from town to town, with several craftsmen in his service. In style and iconography his workshop combined Ashkenazi and Italian art.

Of the 11 surviving manuscripts signed by him, only six are dated; several others are attributed to him on stylistic grounds, both in script and illumination.

Dated Manuscripts

1. The Parma Siddur of 1449. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Ms. 3144 (De'Rossi) 1274, signed by the "scribe Joel ben Simeon, called Feibush of Bonn." Decorated. 2. Maḥzor Cremona of 1452. Formerly Turin, Royal Library Ms. 63; destroyed by fire. Signed by "Joel ben Simeon… Feibush of Bonn." 3. The Second New York Haggadah of 1454. n.y., Jewish Theological Seminary, Mic. 8279. Signed by the "scrivener Joel ben Simeon, called Feibush Ashkenazi of Cologne on the Rhine who wrote, punctuated and painted it." Illustrated. 4. The Lady's Maḥzor of 1469. London, British Museum, Add. Ms. 26957. Signed by the "scrivener Joel ben Simeon." Illustrated. 5. Washington Haggadah of 1478. Library of Congress. Signed by "the humblest of scribes Joel ben Simeon." Illustrated. 6. Commentary on the Psalms. Modena, 1485. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Ms. 2841. Signed by "the scrivener Joel ben Simeon Ashkenazi, for Manuel ben Isaac of Modena." Not illuminated.

undated manuscripts

7. The First Nuremberg Haggadah, Jerusalem, Schocken Library (formerly Nuremberg, National Museum, Ms. 2170b). Signed by "the scribe Joel ben Simeon." Illustrated. The manuscript was incorrectly dated to 1492 by Mueller, to 1410 by Fooner, to 1400 by Landsberger, and to after 1454 by Italiener (the last by interpreting the name Proyna mentioned in the manuscript, as Bruenn, from where the Jews were expelled in 1454.) It should be noticed that Joel was already in Cremona by 1452 and elsewhere in Italy by 1449. 8. The British Museum Haggadah. Add. Ms. 14762. Signed "Feibush called Joel, [who] painted it." Illustrated. 9. The First New York Haggadah. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, MS. 75048. Signed by the "scribe Joel ben Simeon." Illustrated. 10. Implements of the Temple, six leaves. Ibid., Ms. 0822. Signed by "Joel the painter called Feibush." Illustrated. 11. The Dyson-Perrins Haggadah. Cologne and Geneva, Martin Bodmer Collection (formerly: Malvern, Dyson-Perrins Collection Ms. 124). Signed by the "scribe Joel ben Simeon called Feibush Ashkenazi of Cologne on the Rhine." Illustrated.

Attributed Manuscripts

12. Haggadah. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Ms. 2998 (Ms. De'Rossi 111). Illustrated. 13. Haggadah. Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. Or. 4°, I. Illustrated. 14. The Murphy Haggadah: Yale Univ., Heb. Ms. +143. Illustrated.

Most of the manuscripts signed by Joel ben Simeon are illustrated, but some are merely decorated. The illuminations are primarily initial-word panels and marginal text illustrations, typically Ashkenazi. The only full-page illuminations are the six leaves of Temple Implements which may have been used as models in his workshop.

Most of Joel's illuminations consist of colored-pen drawings in Florentine style. The best example is the expressively drawn Washington Haggadah of 1478, which has more illustrations than any of his other signed Haggadot. Two undated and signed Haggadot are problematic because of their German stylistic elements. The First Nuremberg Haggadah, now in the Schocken Library, Jerusalem, must be one of the earliest manuscripts which Joel executed in Italy; the style of the illumination, painted in sepia, is still essentially German, though at times quite Italianized. It is related in style to the First New York Haggadah. The British Museum Haggadah was painted by at least three different artists, two definitely German and one Italian, though in his colophon Joel claims to be the one painter. As the Parma Maḥzor of 1449 was decorated in Italian style, the British Museum Haggadah, The First New York Haggadah, and the First Nuremberg Haggadah, may have belonged to a transition period around 1450.

See also Hebrew *Illuminated Manuscripts; Illuminated *Haggadot; and Illuminated *Maḥzorim.


L.A. Mayer, Bibliography of Jewish Art (1967), nos. 265, 723, 1147, 1431, 1433, 1435, 1662–63, 1760, 1792, 2074, 2193, 2981; Monumenta Judaica, 1 (1963), nos. D68–70; M. Geisberg, Der Meister E.S. und Israel von Meckenem (1924); G. Tamieni, in: La Bibliofilia, 70 (1968), 38–137; A. and W. Cahn, in: Yale University Library Gazette, 41 (1967), no. 4; B. Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts (1969), 39, 114, 124, 140, 171–2; J. Gutmann, in: Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, 9, no. 2–3 (1970), 76–95.

[Bezalel Narkiss]