Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Jewish couples dancing together at a wedding to the accompaniment of musical instruments
  • Creator:
  • Description: This illumination depicts Jewish couples, probably husbands with their wives, dancing in pairs at a wedding ceremony to the accompaniment of music. This image is located in the ""Rothschild Miscellany,"" one of the most extraordinary illuminated Hebrew manuscripts of the fifteenth century. Contained within this book are 37 texts on various subjects such as Biblical and liturgical books, Rabbinic exegesis, commentary on Jewish law and philosophy, historical legend, and entertaining stories. During the medieval and Renaissance periods, dancing was engaged in by all levels of Italian society. At the court level, dancing was often a part of celebrations for visiting dignitaries, for marriages, and for Carnival. People of the middle class attended schools where they learned dances from dance-masters, many of whom were Jewish.

    This image is one of the earliest examples depicting Jewish dancing in Italy. It is an illustration for a pizmon, an auspicious wedding blessing and in this case a nuptial hymn, by Simeon bar Isaac. In this illumination, a lone musician strums a lute, which suggests that he is performing for a small and intimate party. The composition of the image is unusual because the couples are neither dancing side by side, nor promenading behind one another. However, the positioning of the couples conveys movement, and Barbara Sparti suggests it recalls a specific dance, “Colonnese,” by the great dancing master, Guglielmo Ebreo. The couples are dressed in a proper Northern Italian fashion, but the relative simplicity of their clothing can be explained as a response to Christian sumptuary laws dictating that Jews restrict the richness of their dress , as well as to religious leaders who urged Jews to limit the luxury and grandeur of weddings. Another explaination for the simple attire of the dancers is that it could be a reflection of the patron’s own Ashkenazic background, which was more austere and less fashionable than Christians of similar status in Renaissance Mantua. However, the most likely explanation is that because the artist had to produce over 300 illuminations, he probably selected a simple model that could be rendered quickly and repeatedly throughout. Another interesting feature of this image is the headcoverings of the women. The ""Rothschild Miscellany"" is the only codex that shows women wearing the white coif or veil, which was charateristic of married Jewish women. Also, the cone-headdress worn by two of the dancers was only worn by foreigners and was never adopted by Italian women.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Clothing Dancing Jews Music Veils Weddings
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1460- 1480
  • Related Work: See ten selected pages from the "Rothschild Miscellany" on the UNESCO website: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/resources/multimedia/photo-galleries/preservation-of-documentary-heritage/memory-of-the-world-nominations-2012/israel-rothschild-miscellany
  • Current Location: Israel Museum, Jerusalem, MS. Rothschild 24, fol. 246b
  • Original Location: Veneto, Northern Italy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 21 cm/15.9 cm/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Sparti, Barbara. "Jewish Dancing-Masters and 'Jewish Dance' in Renaissance Italy: Guglielmo Ebreo and Beyond. In Seeing Israel and Jewish Dance edited by Judith Brin Ingber. Wayne State University Press. Detroit. 2011. Pg. 235-250.; Grossman, Avraham. Pious and Rebellious Jewish Women in Medieval Europe. Translated from the Hebrew by Jonathan Chipman. Waltham, Massachusettes: Brandeis University Press, 2004. Pg. 114-117.; IMAGINE - The Israel Museum's Searchable Collections Database:http://www.imj.org.il/imagine/collections/