Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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HEB REW M I N I A T U R E B OO K S
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y
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olomon
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of miniature books has never been precisely fixed. While
folios, quartos, octavos, etc., represent more or less definite
book sizes—the folio denoting that the printing sheet has been
folded once, the quarto twice, and so on—authorities on typography
have been reluctant to establish limits for the tiny, charming works
of the printing art that are referred to as minibooks, miniature
books, microscopic books, microbiblia, or lilliput books. One
scholar refers to them as LXIVmos, that is, books whose printing
sheet has been folded to provide sixty-four leaves. But the argu­
ment has never been settled to everyone’s satisfaction.
To unravel the complexities of definition, this article establishes
a simple criterion: miniature books are books whose combined
measurement—i.e., length multiplied by width—does not exceed
eight inches. This means that a book four inches tall and two
inches wide, or one that is 3]4” x 2}/i”, just about falls within our
scope; it cannot be larger and still be regarded as a minibook.
Actually, most of the items mentioned here are smaller than the
two examples given above and are therefore veritable miniatures.
As in the case of the larger book, the miniature is the successor
to the manuscript. The scribe was always proud of his skill and
therefore searched for unusual avenues to present his artistic
handiwork. Very early in the history of manuscript writing appears
the embellishment offered by illumination in colors and gold. Com­
bining tiny page size with colored illustration requires extra­
ordinary control on the part of the scribe joined with painterly
ability. J. Henry Middleton, in his “Illuminated Manuscripts,”
describes such miniatures as being “among the greatest marvels
of human skill that have ever been produced.” He lists manu­
scripts only two inches square, set in gold and suspended from
the owner’s belt by chains and rings.
Jewish manuscripts falling within our size range are extant in
the more important libraries and in private collections. Especially
popular were Purim Megillot, with and without illustrations,
generally encased in gold, silver or ivory. Tiny unillustrated
Purim scrolls were frequently written in Yemen and Palestine;
those embellished with illuminations are the products of Italian,
German, and Dutch scribes. The Sephardic scribes tended to
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