Moses in a Festival Prayer Book

Southern Germany

Moses receiving the law

This decorated word panel shows Moses holding the Tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai (on left of the image) while Aaron and the Israelites stand in prayer. Trumpets pierce the clouds and announce the solemnity of the occasion. Aaron, brother of Moses and the first Jewish high priest, wears a bishop’s mitre, which suggests the work of Christian illuminators. The men wear the typical medieval Jewish pointed hat, and have ordinary human features, whereas the women are depicted with animal heads. The distortion of human facial features was characteristic of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts from Southern Germany in the Middle Ages. The rationale for these distortions has not been explained satisfactorily. Perhaps, under the influence of the pietistic movements of the period, artists invented these devices mainly to evade the stern prohibition on painting the human form.

John Reeve (ed.). Sacred. British Library. 2007.