Laura Feigen

Research trip to see the Rothschild Pentateuch

In 2022, the British Archaeological Association granted me a £500 Travel Grant to support a research trip to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The objective of the research trip was to examine the Rothschild Pentateuch (MS 116), a thirteenth-century Hebrew Bible that the Getty acquired in 2018.

The trip afforded me the opportunity to study every folio of the Rothschild Pentateuch, paying special attention to the text and illuminations. As the Rothschild Pentateuch is not fully digitized, this was the first time that I had been able to see most of the folios. I spent several days scrutinizing the illuminations and found many intriguing details, including writing underneath the paintings on two of the folios. The writing is minute, almost indecipherable, but could help us to understand more about the process of illuminating the manuscript. As the illuminator is unknown, the inscriptions may also give an indication as to whether the artist was Jewish or Christian.

In addition to the illuminations, I spent a lot of time looking at the micrographic designs. Micrography is a Jewish artform wherein minute words are written into shapes such as botanical motifs, dragons, knights, geometric shapes and much more. The text making up the micrography is so small that it can, really, only be read through an in-person examination. This was, therefore, a unique opportunity to closely examine the texts of these designs. One of the scribes wrote several colophons in the form of micrography. From these designs we can learn his name, the name of the patron, and even some personal information such as that his father was also a scribe. This information will be important in thinking about the cultural environment in which the Rothschild Pentateuch was made.

While at the Getty, I was able to speak with Beth Morrison, Senior Curator of Manuscripts. Dr. Morrison was wonderfully helpful and generous with her time. We talked at length about the Rothschild Pentateuch’s fascinating provenance and some of the main research questions surrounding its creation. I also spoke with the conservationist who repaired a few of the manuscript’s folios and wrote the Getty’s initial condition report. Through our conversation I was able to learn more about the manuscript’s current, twentieth-century binding and some of the other changes it has sustained over time.

I concluded my trip by reading the Getty’s curatorial file on the manuscript and associated bibliography. It was extremely helpful to read the Getty’s copies of the bibliography texts because some of the volumes can be difficult to find as they date from early twentieth-century Germany.

Overall, my trip to the Getty was very productive. The information garnered has opened new and urgent lines of inquiry, which I am excited to explore in my PhD dissertation. I am very grateful to the British Archaeological Association for their support, which enabled me to undertake this vital and, in many ways, transformational research trip.