33. Ethics of the fathers (1) (1)

Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), siddur (prayer book), Lisbon, late 15th century. Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment. The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, NY, Ms. 8235. Photograph courtesy of The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America

This siddur, a Jewish prayer book, reflects a taste for delicate tracery penwork. Key pages are also embellished with gold leaf and watercolor. Gold—much of it coming from West Africa—was an important artistic material across the three of the major Mediterranean faiths of the medieval period: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jewish artisans, who often worked with gold, made significant contributions to art and culture during the Middle Ages, creating works for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clients.