“In his dexterity Szyk recalls a bygone age of monastic scribes slaving over parchment pages. [His] illustrations are more intricate than Swiss watch works and sublimely obsessive. Reproductions hardly do the originals justice.”
— Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times
“Arthur Szyk’s drawings are evidence of an exceptional mastery of crafts and of artistic inspiration.”
— Katja Widmann and Johannes Zechner, Curators, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, 2008
“To call Arthur Szyk the greatest illuminator since the sixteenth century is no flattery. It is the simple truth which becomes manifest to any person who studies his work with the care which it deserves.”
— Cecil Roth, Historian, London, 1940s
“[Szyk] makes not only cartoons, but beautiful composed pictures which suggest, in their curiously decorative quality, the inspired illuminations of the early religious manuscripts.”
— Thomas Craven, Art Critic, New York, 1940s
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The Szyk Haggadah
The new edition of The Szyk Haggadah (Historicana, 2008) surpasses all previous editions in every way. It takes advantage of every recent advance in photography, color reproduction, papermaking, and typography—and even goes several steps beyond. The Historicana edition also showcases an original translation and commentary that sheds new light on Szyk’s brilliant art and on the Passover celebration as never before.
For the photography of The Szyk Haggadah, we engaged the services of Ardon Bar Hama, a leader in the digital capture of rare documents. Working with a Leaf Aptus 75 camera, each original watercolor painting was shot to the lens’s maximum resolution in very large 16-bit files. These were then adjusted to establish contrast appropriate to the printing surface, resulting in a seamless transition to the page.
A new printing method—super high-resolution inkjet (giclée)—can, at last, capture the intensity, brightness, and details of Szyk’s original illuminations for The Haggadah. On a correctly prepared surface, the molecular density of the inkjet pigments produces an uncannily perfect match to Szyk’s watercolor and gouache media. The pigments—true pigments, not interpolated—are permanent, exceeding all established test standards for longevity, light sensitivity, and water sensitivity. Our edition is a bibliographic landmark: the first significant deluxe edition produced entirely digitally by highly regarded masters of the traditional book arts, working with the finest permanent materials.
Finding a paper equal to the art and a publication of such distinction proved very difficult. We ultimately discovered a specially treated version of “Bugra,” a mould-made paper made in Germany by Hahnemühle, a renowned maker of fine papers since 1584. Hahnemühle agreed to make a paper especially for this book in the weight and finish we require. Bugra, which has a rich texture and creamy color, is an acid-free, pH neutral sheet and exceeds all established standards for durability.
The endpapers of The Szyk Haggadah—that is, the leaves added by the binder at the beginning and end of a book—are made with the finest custom paste papers. Artist Sage Reynolds of Four Hands Design Studio painstaking hand painted and patterned each leaf for both the Deluxe and the Premier editions. The paste paper design employs Szyk’s signature blue and red hues, and, in the Premier edition, is flecked with stunning 24 karat gold.
Watch Sage Reynolds work on the paste papers in his studio using the player below.
The new design of the English text of The Szyk Haggadah is an unobtrusive complement to the artwork, allowing Szyk’s work to speak more clearly than ever before. It makes exemplary use of digital technology’s flexibility to gracefully interweave multiple strands of information, perfect the weight and fit of every letter, and make use of the page space to the fullest extent. The texts that are to be read out loud are set in an Ehrhardt type. The commentaries are set in Lucas de Groot’s TheSans, and the titles are set in Penumbra. The attitude is unselfconsciously modern, but the sensibilities are firmly rooted in the classical tradition, with the reader always in mind.
Translation and Commentary
Other editions of The Szyk Haggadah use the English text from the 1940 edition, a version that seems too Victorian for Passover celebrants of today. The new translation and commentary of The Szyk Haggadah (Historicana, 2008), as prepared by Byron L. Sherwin, is now as vibrant as Szyk’s illuminations—clear, useful, inspiring, informative, and in the spirit of our own time, exploring avenues of Jewish thought more broadly than before.