The early Jewish community in Amsterdam consists of an incredibly diverse group of people with unique and different backgrounds. There are a lot of people from Amsterdam who have produced an enormous collection of remarkable Jewish artifacts that became distinguished pieces of Jewish history. One of the most notable is Abraham bar Ya’akov’s Amsterdam Haggadah.
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Abraham bar Ya’akov
One of the noteworthy artifacts found in this vibrant city is the Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695. It is widely known for its iconic copper engravings which became a sort of trend used in Haggadahs that came after it. The illustrator behind the Amsterdam haggadah is Abraham bar Ya’akov, a converso born in Germany. Before he became a copper engraver, he was originally a Christian pastor. He moved to Amsterdam when he was 26, and decided to convert to Judaism. Considering his background, it can be said that he combined his knowledge and skills as a pastor and engraver to create magnificent illustrations in the Amsterdam Haggadah.
Illustrations in the Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695
The first illustration depicted in the title page of the Haggadah is an image of Aaron, The High Priest, and Moses, The Lawgiver. It is illustrated beautifully using copper engravings, which was considered a new and fresh technological advancement compared to previous forms of illustration. Another illustration in the Amsterdam Haggadah depicts the discovery of the infant Moses in the Nile by the daughter of Pharaoh. It’s a fascinating illustration made with great detail that not only shows a picture, but ultimately portrays an entire story in just a single page.
Another illustration includes a striking scene of Moses killing an Egyptian in the book of Exodus. Behind them, you can see Hebrews hard at work in the background as they build Pithom and Ramses, two cities that are described as slave cities in the book of Exodus. There is also an illustration of a map of the Holy Land that is laid out from East to West.This is considered to be a rare and one of the first maps of Israel written in Hebrew.
The Amsterdam Haggadah 1695 includes several illustrations that were discovered to be taken from early designs of biblical illustrations from a Christian perspective. One of these images is the illustration of the four sons. In the illustration of the four sons, three of the four sons are seen to be existing characters that are simply flipped in mirror image. The illustrations of these three sons were taken from three different illustrations of Matthäus Merian of Basel, a swiss-born engraver based in Frankfurt on the mid-17th century print of the bible that had illustrations.