Jerusalem’s Israel Museum and the Met Go Halfsies on 15th Century Illuminated Torah


Yesterday the Israel Museum, Jerusalem and New York’s Metropolitan Museum announced that they had jointly acquired a handwritten illuminated manuscript of the “Mishneh Torah” by Maimonides, which they will share on a rotating basis. The 15th century volume was created in two volumes: the other, containing books I-V, belongs to the Vatican Library, while this one comes from the holdings of New York-based collectors Judy and Michael Steinhardt.

It was acquired by the Met and the Israel Museum — for an undisclosed price — just in the nick of time, as it was slated to be included in yesterday’s auction of Judaica from the Steinhardt collection at Sotheby’s. “The acquisition of this remarkable manuscript by the Israel Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is poetic given Judy’s and my longstanding involvement with both institutions,” Michael Steinhardt said in a statement, “and it is particularly meaningful that this event marks the first significant collaboration between the two museums.”

The manuscript, which was created around 1457 in northern Italy, includes six panels painted with large illustrations of pigment and gold leaf, along with another 41 smaller illustrations with golden type. It has been on long-term loan to the Israel Museum since 2007, where it underwent a major restoration and has been on public view since 2010.

“The Mishneh Torah is a justly celebrated work that attests to the refined aesthetic sensibility of members of Italy’s Jewish community as well as to the opulence of North Italian book decoration in the 15th century,” the Met’s director Thomas P. Campbell said in a statement. “In recent years, through stellar loans provided by a number of institutions, the Metropolitan Museum has exhibited several major illustrated Hebrew manuscripts in rotation. The Mishneh Torah, a document of great historical and literary importance, and a masterpiece of illumination, will be a major addition to the Museum’s permanent and encyclopedic collection, and will provide audiences in New York and Jerusalem with a vastly rewarding viewing experience for generations to come.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, for Michael and Judy Steinhardt, by Ardon Bar-Hama.)