The Times has an article about an exhibit at the YU Museum of the Braginsky Hebrew Illuminated Manuscript collection.
The collection is substantial but clearly this exhibition is premature and primitive. Aside from historical notes, the context of the meanings of the illuminations, the quality of the art, the development of style and continuities or communities of design, just about any critical content of learning, scholarship or analysis about the illuminations -- is lacking here.
We're sorry to say that we've never thought the illuminations on Hebrew manuscripts "amazed" us, as Edward Rothstein ejaculates in his account of the materials. The drawings always look primitive and cartoonish to us, overwhelmed by naive anachronism that continues down to the present day in the sparse Orthodox art that we have.
I don't know what Edward is talking about in his article's poetic opening, "Illuminations of sacred and ritualistic texts are forms of eruptions. Out of familiar and formulaic script leap the strange and extravagant. Rigorous textual arguments give way to decorative ornamentation. Formulaic words submit to a rich brocade of image."
He's being kind, I guess, to a failed exhibit. There really is nothing to say beyond, a rich guy bought manuscripts. Here is where they came from. They have pictures.
He tries to remedy the lack of insight in the exhibit by adding his own, "We see, for example, how particular Jewish communities at particular times imagined the Passover or Purim stories, how they imagined the nature of marriage or the function of commentary. Illumination brings religious text into history and, at times, into biography. The sacred becomes personal." Um, right sure, why not?
He tries again with, "The ritualistic account of the Exodus or of Esther’s rescue of her people becomes allegory, full of color, costume and personal experience" or what he means is, they have pictures.
And just how does a generous Times critic say that the exhibit is a disorganized mishmash? He notes that, "The effect of all this is dazzling and dizzying."
And he concludes with a critic's wit, "Contemporary experience and ancient authority are brought together; the timeless past unites with the varying present: an illuminating collection," or, he says one more time, they have pictures.
(Note that the online link in the article on the Times' site to the YU web site is broken. And the Braginsky site itself has a title on its pages labelling it "Barginsky".)