Metropolitan, Israel Museums Buy Steinhardt Mishneh Torah

Photographer: Ardon Bar-Hama/The Israel Museum/Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A 15th-century, illustrated volume of Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish law assembled by Maimonides. It was estimated at $4.5 million to $6 million on a Sotheby's auction and was sold privately to two museums shortly before the event. Close

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Photographer: Ardon Bar-Hama/The Israel Museum/Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A 15th-century, illustrated volume of Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish law assembled by Maimonides. It was estimated at $4.5 million to $6 million on a Sotheby's auction and was sold privately to two museums shortly before the event.

A 15th-century illustrated volume of Mishneh Torah from the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, which was planned to be sold at Sotheby’s (BID) this morning, was jointly purchased by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sotheby’s said today.

Estimated at $4.5 million to $6 million, it was the top lot in the 386-lot sale from the Judaica collection which the former hedge-fund manager and his wife assembled over more than 30 years.

“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 an emailed statement. “It is particularly meaningful that this event marks the first significant collaboration between the two museums.”

While the price was undisclosed, it exceeded the current record for Judaica at auction which was set in 1989 at Sotheby’s (BID) London when a Hebrew Bible sold for $2.9 million, the auction house said.

Written by Moses Maimonedes in the 12th century, Mishneh Torah contains 14 books of the Jewish legal code.

Steinhardt’s volume includes books 7 through 14 and was part of a two-volume set created in 1457 in the Northern Italy. Other volumes are in the collections of the Vatican library.

Collector Support

The Israel Museum acquired the volume with support from the Steinhardts, Zurich collectors Susanne and Rene Braginsky, co-founder of Incentive Asset Management AG; Renee and Lester Crown, chairman of Henry Crown & Co, Chicago-based private investment group; philanthropist Lynn Schusterman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and one anonymous donor, the museum said in an announcement.

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.

The manuscript underwent a complete restoration at the Israel Museum, where it has been on long-term loan since 2007 and on view to the public from 2010 to 2013.

“The Mishneh Torah is a rare treasure that unites Jewish literary heritage with some of the finest illuminations from the Italian Renaissance,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum.

The Met also bought an 18th century, Italian silver Torah crown for $857,000, surpassing the high estimate of $500,000.

The Jewish Museum in New York snapped up a 16th century German bronze hand washing vessel shaped as a lion for $377,000, within the presale estimate. The prices include the buyer’s premium; the estimates don’t.

To contact the reporters of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at kkazakina@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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