Medieval Hebrew prayer book expected to fetch up to $6m at auction – The Guardian

Posted By on September 6, 2021

A 700-year-old illustrated and annotated Hebrew prayer book that provides a window into the lives and rituals of Jewish communities in medieval Europe is expected to fetch up to $6m when it is sold at auction next month.

The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, created in southern Germany in late 13th or early 14th century, is one of fewer than 20 such prayer books believed to be in existence. According to Sothebys, it is the most important medieval illustrated prayer book to be offered for sale in a century.

Handwritten notes in the manuscripts margins show that the mahzor travelled from the German region of Franconia to Alsace, Lake Constance, northern Italy and France. At each stage, its users annotated the text to reflect local customs, rituals and events.

At Lake Constance, for example, the community added prayers composed after people were killed in anti-Jewish violence during the Black Death.

The mahzors creator was a man named Abraham, identifiable because he decorated each mention of the patriarch Abraham in the prayer book with a feathered crown or a winglike flourish.

The fact that it was created by a Jewish scribe-artist at a time when many medieval Hebrew manuscripts were illustrated by Christian artists is especially noteworthy, said Sharon Liberman Mintz, a senior consultant of books and manuscripts at Sothebys. The exceedingly rare manuscript contained elegant calligraphy and beautiful decoration, she added.

The book contains the entire cycle of prayers for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, said Mintz, referring to the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, the new year and day of atonement. It also includes special liturgical poems, known as puyyitim, recited on fast days and festivals.

What you have is a manuscript thats both a liturgical book and a ritual object of communal character. [Prayer books] were most likely kept in private individuals homes throughout the year and then brought to the synagogue for the specific holidays, and they were designed for use for the community as a whole.

The handwritten notes in the margins were a witness to Jewish communal life, a repository of communal identity. And its just fascinating that we can follow along, said Mintz.

The prayer book is named after its eventual owner, Samuel David Luzzatto, a 19th-century Italian-Jewish scholar and collector. After his death, the prayer book was bought by the Alliance Isralite Universelle, which is now selling it to fund its educational mission.

It will be auctioned by Sothebys in New York next month and is expected to fetch $4m-$6m.

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Medieval Hebrew prayer book expected to fetch up to $6m at auction - The Guardian

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