Monday, April 30, 2012

Magnificent 15th C. Illuminated Hebrew Manuscript Estimated $540K - $800K

By Stephen J. Gertz

Cantor pointing to The Book of Life, opening Yom Kippur.

A mahzor, or Jewish holiday prayerbook, an illuminated manuscript in Hebrew on vellum from Tuscany (likely Florence), c. 1490s, is being offered by Christie's - Paris on May 11, 2012. It is estimated to sell for €400,000 - €600,000 ($540,000 - $800,000).

Ark of the Covenant, with men teaching in the synagogue below.

It is magnificently illuminated in the characteristic style of Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, known as Boccardino il vecchio (Boccardino the Old, 1460-1529) and considered one of the last representatives of the golden age of Florentine renaissance illumination. His princely clients included Lorenzo de' Medici "Il Magnifico," and Matthias Corvinus

Leaf with illuminated border and headpiece.

While Boccardino's work dominates the first sixty-eight leaves, subsequent illuminations were completed by followers or members of his workshop after Boccadino's designs.

Frontispiece with border medallions.
Note coat of arms in lower panel, flanked by cherubs.

The Jewish community of Florence flourished in the 15th-century, their position closely linked to the fortunes of the de' Medici. Lorenzo il magnifico was their protector; he encouraged Jewish scholarship and scholars. It is, then, unsurprising that Jewish patrons of this Mahzor solicited an artist who worked for Lorenzo for this luxury manuscript. While Christian Florentines illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, this Mahzor appears to be the only example  illuminated by Boccardino.

Mose holding the tablets of the law.
Raising of the Passover Seder basket.

The coat of arms bears resemblance to the Ambron family but coats of arms used by Jewish families were inventions, not official, and variable, employing traditional Jewish symbols. Positive identification is difficult. The manuscript's 16th century binding bears a central medallion combining elements of the armorial devices of various Italian noble families, including the Tedeschi and Uzielli of Tuscany

Leaf with illuminated initial and vignette.
A couple in bed.
The Sabbath meal.

Containing prayers for the entire Jewish liturgical year, the Mahzor  includes: blessing of the Name of the Lord; a hundred blessings to be recited daily; blessing for the Lord; the recitation of Shema and prayers to be said before retiring to bed; for the Sabbath;  for the blessing for a new moon;  for Hanukkah with extracts from the Book of Esther; prayers to be said before reading the Megillah; for Passover;  before the fast of Tammuz, followed by prayers for the fast of the Ninth of Av and relating to the Book of Lamentations, followed by prayers and Psalms; prayers for Rosh Hashanah; for Yom Kippur; for Sukkoth; Tsam'a Nafshi, the 12th-century poem by Abraham ibn Ezra, the author's name picked out acrostically in the margin; and commentary on the death of Moses in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Leaf with illuminated vignette.

This mahzor was still in Italy early in the 17th century when it was seen by the Christian censors Fra Hippolytus of Ferrara and Camillo Jagel who signed the final leaf, in 1601 and 1611(?). An inserted note records the purchase of the manuscript in Frankfurt before 1908. It was published in London, 1930, in Adler's Jewish Travellers, when it was in the possession of E. Bicart-Sée in Paris and then by descent to the present family owners.

Binding, lower board.


MAHZOR. Tuscany (Florence?), c.1490s. Small octavo (6.61 x 4.9 inches; 168 x 125 mm). ii, 442 leaves, apparently complete with catchwords on final versos of many gatherings, some signature still visible, foliation every 10 leaves includes front flyleaves and is followed here, 20 lines of Italian semi-cursive script in black ink, with vowel points, rubrics in smaller script mostly in red or blue, Hebrew square script for initial words, prayers for Yom Kippur highlighted in gold, initial word panels throughout in burnished gold on red, green or blue grounds, some embellished with marginal sprays, text illustrations including the Matzah and Maror, FRONTISPIECE WITH FULL-PAGE BORDER INCORPORATING MEDALLIONS WITH PROFILE HEADS, LANDSCAPE VIGNETTES AND THE COAT OF ARMS OF THE ORIGINAL OWNER, two openings with similar single panel borders and a two-sided floral border on a vellum ground, TWO SMALL, TWO HALF-PAGE AND FOUR FULL-PAGE MINIATURES, two of them with full-page borders incorporating coats of arms, edges gilt and gauffered (occasional light losses of pigment or gold, some unobtrusive smudging or offsetting, a few marginal creases, some fading of ink, particularly to final leaf).

Mid 16th-century Italian gold-tooled dark brown goatskin over thin wooden boards with strapwork painted in red and yellow, both covers with central cartouche with coat of arms, elaborately decorated with a unicorn and rabbit, hatched leaf and flower tools, solid dots and foliate rolls, evidence of two fore-edge clasps, four nail holes at edge of cartouche, (rebacked, repaired at board edges, paint rubbed, clasps missing).

Images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. nice.. As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
    Have you seen this video ? It helped me get over my internal anger.


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