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Book Notes: A Jewish Iconography, Alfred Rubens

R. D. Barnett

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Iconography Alfred Rubens, A Jewish Iconography Revised Edition (London, Nonpareil, 1981) 2 78 +xxxii pp., 4 whole-page illustrations, 2467 text figs. Cased limited edition, 650 copies. Leather bound: ?195; buckram: ?160; printed by The Curwen Press. Alfred Rubens' lifetime hobby has been the collect? ing and study of what we loosely call 'Jewish prints', i.e., engravings and prints made in various places and periods dealing with Jews, from the 14th century until the middle of the 19th century, a period when, as he says, engravings were the principal visual means of mass-communication. It is a most important subject; nothing else illustrates so well the history and position of the Jew in his surroundings. In a brief autobiographical preface to the present work, Rubens describes how he began collecting in the early 1930s, under the influence of Cecil Roth and Wilfred Samuel, and gives inciden? tally the background history of the dealers and market conditions in which he started assembling his now fabulous collection. By the time he began collecting, several older British collections - those of Sir Hermann Gollancz, Elkan Adler and Israel Solomons-had either crossed the Atlantic and disappeared, or had been sold and dispersed, to the great detriment of Anglo-Jewish, not to say Jewish, scholarship as a whole. Rubens set himself to repair that loss while there was still time, and in the half-century that has elapsed he has assembled a pretty complete collection; but what is still more of an achievement, he has accompanied its assembly with a series of catalogues, as precise and accurate as they are beautifully printed. This, then, is the prime service (only one of several) that he has rendered to the cause of Anglo-Jewish learning. The first of these works, Anglo-Jewish Portraits, pub? lished in 1935 by the Jewish Museum, described 502 items and was illustrated with 48 plates. The second, A Jewish Iconography (published by the Nonpareil Press for the Jewish Museum in 1954), substantially extended the catalogue to 2246 items with over 90 additions to the Anglo-Jewish section, and included 81 plates. Both these works, printed only in limited editions, were rapidly exhausted, and to replace and supplement them the author has brought out the present work. The catalogue now lists 2467 items - representing a pretty complete, certainly an exceedingly fine, collection. The book itself is beautifully printed and produced. Some people, however, may be put off by one unusual feature: each item is illustrated - an advantage that the previous volumes did not possess - but only in miniature scale. These are ideal for a museum register and for purposes of easy identification, but are of little use for close study. It is accordingly most exciting and important news that the indefatigable author is now engaged on preparing a further companion volume of illustrations of normal size. This will indeed crown his life's work, fittingly described in one word - Nonpareil. The present volume also includes a bibliography of Alfred Rubens' books and articles. R. D. Barnett</page></plain_text>