The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Italian Beauty: Frames and Ornaments in Early Hebrew Prints from a Material and Textual Perspective

My paper examines the evolution of ornamental frames from later Hebrew manuscripts to early Hebrew prints in Italian Renaissance. It specifically examines the evolution from Italian “white vine-steam” (bianchi girari) to modern stylized ornamental frames from a material-textual perspective. In particular, it argues that the use of these motifs pursued two simultaneous goals: improving the aesthetic experience of reading while encapsulating the text with appealing decorative frames and embedding these texts within a specific trans-cultural milieu. My contention is that animal motifs were used in Hebrew texts not only to bypass the Biblical prohibition of “making images” but also, and especially, to abide by the aesthetic expectations of dominant Italian Humanism. In this respect, the representation of animals—and other minor themes like putti and other Classic mythological figures—is the key for accessing the complex dialectics between Jewishness and assimilation in Jewish Italian Renaissance.