Uncovering the Oppenheimer Siddur

Using scientific analysis to reveal medieval manuscript mysteries

Published in March 2018, this research project aimed to use non-invasive scientific analysis to uncover evidence of the planning process and relationship between pigments used in text copying and artwork production in the Oppenheimer Siddur. The Oppenheimer Siddur is an illuminated 15th-century Hebrew prayer book that has the largest number of illustrations of musicians of any existing Hebrew manuscript from the Middle Ages.

The manuscript’s colophon (an emblem or imprint) indicates that a scribe copied it for use by his family. However, it is not clear who was responsible for the artwork, an important factor when interpreting the meaning of illustrations in medieval Hebrew books.

Analysis by the UWA Conservatorium of Music’s Associate Professor Suzanne Wijsman suggested that the scribe may have been the manuscript’s artist, based on common motifs and an apparent shared colour palette appearing in both texts and artwork.

Dr Wijsman’s initial questions about the project, specifically the pigment application sequence, text copying and artwork production, led to collaboration with a group of archaeological and imaging science researchers from Oxford and Nottingham Trent universities. Dr Wijsman was co-supervisor in the project to NTU’s professor and academic investigator Haida Liang.

The research has implications for understanding Jewish medieval visual cultures and the meaning of the musical theme running throughout this manuscript’s iconography for the scribe-artist who produced this illuminated prayer book.

Uncovering the Oppenheimer Siddur: using scientifc analysis to reveal the production process of a medieval illuminated Hebrew manuscript

Published by Heritage Science in March 2018, this research article has open access to the public. The evidence from the research study is outlined in detail, supporting the hypothesis that a scribe applied pigments for the manuscript’s artwork at the same time he did some of the scribal work which has implications for understandings of Jewish medieval visual cultures.

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Ancient manuscript

Contact Suzanne Wijsman

Associate Professor, Conservatorium of Music

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