A new acquisition – The Szyk Haggadah (Sp Coll RF 1162)


Illustrated text page from Sp Coll RF 1162

Illustrated text page from Sp Coll RF 1162. Used by permission.



This beautifully produced and fascinating volume was recently presented to the University of Glasgow by Mark Goldberg, on behalf of the Goldberg family. Forced to flee Eastern Europe in 1907, the family came first to Glasgow, where they were able to flourish in safety and several family members were educated at the University.  The family has given the Haggadah to the people of Glasgow in gratitude for the sanctuary and hospitality they received here.

The volume is a copy of The Haggadah (Hebrew for “the telling”), which tells the story of the Exodus of the ancient Hebrews from their captivity in Egypt. It is one of Judaism’s most popular works of religious literature, and has been used at the Seder meal  celebrated by families during the Passover holiday for more than fifteen hundred years. The Passover Haggadah includes the text of everything that is said, sung and enacted each year during this most joyful of celebrations.

Illustrated text page from Sp Coll RF 1162

Illustrated text page from Sp Coll RF 1162. Used by permission.

The exact date when the Haggadah first began to be written down is not known for certain, but the oldest extant manuscript is a relatively complete fragment of an eighth or ninth century Palestinian Haggadah found in a synagogue in Cairo.

Jewish artists first began illustrating the Haggadah during the Middle Ages, a tradition which is still observed today.  A particularly fine example from the fourteenth century is the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Even after the invention of printing, the Haggadah was still often copied by hand and lavishly illuminated.

This edition of the Haggadah is illustrated by the Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) as a visual and contemporary commentary on the ancient story of Passover.

Arthur Szyk, renowned graphic artist, book illustrator, stage designer and caricaturist, was born in Łódź in Poland, an area then under Russian rule.  In 1937 he moved first to the United Kingdom, then in 1940 to the United States where he remained, becoming an American citizen in 1948. The main characteristics of Szyk’s artwork are social and political comment and the influence of medieval and renaissance art generally, and of illuminated manuscripts in particular. These elements are very evident in the lavish and colourful illustrations of the Haggadah.

The  Haggadah  has 48 full page water-colour and gouache illustrations, modelled on the format of an illuminated manuscript.

This copy is bound and in a solander case made by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. It is number 45 of 125 numbered copies of the British Empire Edition, and was dedicated to HM King George VI, who received one of the first copies.

All of the copies were signed by the artist and editor, printed on double leaves of vellum, with silk panels inset in front and back doublures. The covers and spine were decorated in gold.


Spine of Sp Coll RF 1162

Spine of Sp Coll RF 1162

Binding of Sp Coll RF 1162

Binding of Sp Coll RF 1162











Detail of Sp Coll RF 1162 showing contemporary figures

Detail of Sp Coll RF 1162 showing contemporary figures. Used by permission.


Szyk struggled to find a publisher for his Haggadah in mainland Europe in the mid-1930s because his contemporary telling of the Haggadah caused considerable unease; publishers in Poland were very reluctant to publicize a book in which the illustrations evidently drew a direct parallel between the contemporary policies of Nazi Germany and the behaviour of the Egyptian pharaoh as described in the biblical Book of Exodus.

Parable of Four Brothers with "Wicked Son" resembling Hitler

Parable of Four Brothers with “Wicked Son” resembling Hitler. Used by permission.



Detail from Sp Coll RF 1162 showing contemporary figures amongst Pharaoh's slaves

Detail from Sp Coll RF 1162 showing contemporary figures amongst Pharaoh’s slaves. Used by permission.

Ultimately, the publishing house Beaconsfield Press was founded in London in 1937 for the express purpose of publishing The Szyk Haggadah. Szyk moved from Poland to London especially to supervise every aspect of the book’s production with his collaborator in this project, the preeminent Jewish historian, Dr. Cecil Roth (1899-1970) who was the editor of the text.

Quite apart from its intrinsic religious significance, and and the interesting history of its creation, the Szyk Haggadah is also a remarkable and beautiful work of art, and we are very grateful to the members of the Goldberg family for this most generous gift.

All illustrations from the Szyk Haggadah are reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, Burlingame, CA www.szyk.org

The acquisition of the Szyk Haggadah complements our Blau Collection, a small but significant collection of Hebrew books purchased by the University of Glasgow Library in 1937.

Sources used:

Levin, Meyer (editor): An Israel Haggadah for Passover.  New York, 1977.

Article on “Haggadah” in Zionism and Israel Encyclopedic Dictionary [page accessed online on 1/7/15]

Other items of interest:

Roth, Cecil: Jewish Art: an illustrated history. London, 1961. Fine Arts A7415 JEW

The Arthur Szyk Society


Categories: Reflections, Special Collections

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1 reply

  1. Reblogged this on cautivadulce.

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