15th-Century Illuminated Manuscript Jointly Acquired by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today the joint acquisition of one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts ever created, a rare handwritten copy of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, one of the most important rabbinical figures of the Middle Ages. The manuscript was previously in the collection of Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York, and will be shared by the two museums on a rotating basis.

The Mishneh Torah is being acquired by the Israel Museum with support from: an anonymous donor; René and Susanne Braginsky, Zurich; Renee and Lester Crown, Chicago; Lynn Schusterman, Tulsa; and Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York. Funding for the acquisition at the Metropolitan Museum will be announced at a later date.

Created in Northern Italy in ca. 1457, this beautifully illustrated Hebrew text includes the eight final books of the Mishneh Torah, the first systematic codification of Jewish law. The manuscript is richly illuminated, with six large painted panels decorated in precious pigments and gold leaf, as well as forty-one smaller illustrations with gold lettering adorning the opening words of each chapter. These detailed illustrations, executed in the style of Northern Italian Renaissance miniature painting, along with the manuscript’s elegant script, make it one of the finest extant illuminated copies of the Mishneh Torah ever to be created. The manuscript underwent a complete restoration in the Paper Conservation Laboratory at the Israel Museum, where it has been on long-term loan since 2007 and on view to the public since 2010.

The manuscript was originally conceived in two volumes. The first volume, which contains books I-V, was purchased between 1838 and 1854 by the renowned Italian collector Giovanni Francesco De’ Rossi, whose manuscript holdings were later acquired by the Vatican Library. The second volume, which includes books VII-XIV and is often referred to today as the “Frankfurt Mishneh Torah,” reached Germany as part of the collection of Avraham Merzbacher of Munich until the end of the 19th century and was later presented to the Frankfurt Municipal Library. In 1950, a Frankfurt Jewish family acquired the manuscript, along with seven others, in exchange for property that the city wished to acquire for municipal development. It remained in the family until its 2007 purchase by Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York. www.metmuseum.org

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