The J. Paul Getty Museum

Rothschild Pentateuch

Object Details


Rothschild Pentateuch



and Joel ben Simeon (German, active Germany and Italy, second half of 15th century)

Elijah ben Meshallum (active 13th century)

and Elijah ben Jehiel (active 13th century)

Commentary by Rashi (French, 1040 - 1105)


French or German


or Germany; France (Place Created)




Tempera colors, gold, and ink

Object Number:

Ms. 116 (2018.43)


Closed: 27.5 × 21 cm (10 13/16 × 8 1/4 in.)

Credit Line:

Acquired with the generous support of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder

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Object Description

Teeming with hybrid figures, animal and humanoid, as well as spectacular displays of calligraphic virtuosity (known as micrography), the Rothschild Pentateuch's vibrant colors and gleaming gold distinguish it from the greater part of medieval Hebrew book production, which followed a largely textual tradition. Featuring hundreds of illuminated folios in its over 1000 pages, the Rothschild Pentateuch is one of the most elaborate illuminated Hebrew Bibles to survive from the Middle Ages.

The manuscript contains the central sacred text of Judaism, the Pentateuch (the Torah in the strictest sense), which is comprised of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Unusually for a medieval manuscript, there is a wealth of information regarding the circumstances surrounding its creation. There were two scribes who signed the manuscript, Elijah ben Meshullam (main text) and Elijah ben Jehiel (micrography). The name of the patron, Joseph ben Joseph Martel, is also mentioned as well as the date the writing of the manuscript was completed, June 17, 1296. Unfortunately, no further references to any of these individuals has been found in other signed manuscripts or historical records. The text contains features that indicate that Joseph ben Martel Joseph may have been an English émigré who had been expelled from England in 1290 to settle in the Ashkenazi Jewish community along the Rhine (now northern France and western Germany).

The Rothschild Pentateuch's lavish illumination divides the text into sections to be read weekly so that the entire Torah would be read over the course of a year. The opening of each of the five books is celebrated with monumental Hebrew initials intertwined with lively marginal images of animals and plants, and in one case, a full-page image of a glowing Menorah. In a rare deviation from the rest of the manuscript's aniconic tradition, there is one illumination featuring human figures, added later. In the second half of the fifteenth century, by which time the manuscript had travelled to Italy, a folio was replaced with a new insertion. This folio can be identified as the work of one of the most celebrated Jewish scribe/artists known from the period: Joel ben Simeon.

With its seemingly endless variety of illuminated motifs ranging from the imposing to the whimsical, the Rothschild Pentateuch is a prime example of the heights of originality and magnificence that Hebrew illumination could reach in the Middle Ages.

by 1735

Issachar Ber ben Benjamin Hirsch Katzenellenbogen, by descent to his sons Benish Katzenellenbogen and Reuven Katzenellenbogen.


Wahl/Katzenellenbogen Family, by inheritance within the Wahl/Katzenellenbogen family.

before 1920

Baroness Adelaide Rothschild, German-French, 1853 - 1934, donated to Frankfurt-am-Main, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek (Cod. Ausst. 5), before 1920.

by 1920 - 1950

Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main, German, where the manuscript remained throughout World War II.
Note: In 1950, the manuscript was part of an exchange for real estate in Frankfurt between the German government and a German-Jewish family that had relocated to New York.

1950 - 2018

Private Collection (New York), by inheritance within the family; sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.

Art of Three Faiths: a Torah, a Bible, and a Qur’an (August 7, 2018 to February 3, 2019) (fols. 226v-227; fols. 297v-298)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), August 7, 2018 to February 3, 2019
The Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World (May 14 to August 18, 2019) (fols. 33-32v)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), May 14 to August 18, 2019
Museum Acquisitions 2019: Director’s Choice (December 10, 2019 to March 1, 2020) (fols. 435v-436)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 10, 2019 to March 1, 2020
Painted Prophecy: The Hebrew Bible through Christian Eyes (March 10 to June 22, 2020) (fols. 22v-23)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 10 to June 22, 2020

Edelmann, Tzvi Hirsh. Gedulath Shaul (London, 1854), pp. 31a-32b.

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Metzger, Therese and Mendel. Jewish Life in the Middle Ages: Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts of the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1982).

Narkiss, Bezalel. “The Art of the Washington Haggadah.” In The Washington Haggadah ... Myron M. Weinstein, ed. (Washington D. C.: Library of Congress, 1991), pp. 36-37, pp. 36-37.

Cohen, Evelyn M. "L'artista della Haggadah di Prato: Tradizionalista ed Innovatore." In Il Codice Miniato: Rapporti tra Codice, Testo e Figurazione... Melania Ceccanti, and Maria Cristina Castelli, eds. (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1992), pp. 439-51.

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Arendt, Hannah and Gershom Scholem, Der Briefwechsel, ed. M. L. Knott.  Berlin, 2010, pp. 285, 287, n. 3, 289-290, 292.

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Morrison, Elizabeth, and Larisa Grollemond. Book of Beasts. The Bestiary in the Medieval World, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019), pp. 234, 235.

Keene, Bryan C. Toward a Global Middle Ages: Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019, pp. 11, 11, 180–81, 214, 215.

Collins, Kristen, and Bryan C. Keene. “Mobilizing the Collection: Teaching Beyonf the (Medieval) Canon with Museum Objects.” In Toward a Global Middle Ages: Encountering the World through Illuminated Manuscripts, 175–82. Los Angeles, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2019, pp. 180-81.

Morrison, Elizabeth, Kristen Collins, and Bryan Keene. “A Quest for Illumination: The Hebrew Manuscript at the Heart of the Getty's Three Faiths Exhibition.” FineBooks & Collections, 2019, pp. 51-54.

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