Sotheby’s in New York Announces Auction Important Judaica on 14 December

Sotheby’s New York sale of Important Judaica on 14 December 2011 will offer important examples of Hebrew ceremonial metalwork, illuminated manuscripts, early printed books, original decorative bindings and fine art. The auction is led by the most important manuscript Hasidic prayer book still in private hands, Siddur Tefilah min ha-Ari”zal. The sale is estimated at $2.6/3.6 million* and will be exhibited alongside Sotheby’s annual sale of Israeli & International Art beginning on 9 December.


Siddur Tefilah min ha-Ari”zal. Estimate: $450/650,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Written in a particularly handsome script, Siddur Tefilah min ha-Ari”zal is an exceptionally rare example of a kabblistic siddur (prayerbook) that was used by the first generation of hasidic masters, and carries an estimate of $450/650,000. Based on recorded family testimony, the prayer book, which was handwritten by the skilled scribe Moses ben Joseph of Luboml in Yampol (Ukraine) in 1750, first belonged to the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (known as the Ba’al Shem Tov). For over two centuries, the sacred volume remained in the possession of the Twersky family, the leading Hasidic Rebbes of the Chernobyl and Skvira dynasties. The prayer book has been publicly exhibited only one other time, at the special exhibition on Hasidism held in Tel Aviv in 1960, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of the Ba’al Shem Tov, where it was one of the most important objects on display.

A further broad selection of Judaica and Hebraica includes a charmingly illustrated miniature manuscript, Grace After Meals and Women’s Commandments (est. $180/200,000), attributed to the scribe Meshulam Zimmel ben Moses of Polna (Vienna, 1721). This exquisite miniature woman’s prayerbook displays the great artistic skill of the scribe through the diversity of the characters’ facial expressions, as well as the finely drawn garments. Also on offer is a rare Purim Blessing Sheet written by a woman and dating from Rome, 1770, the only known example of an Esther Scroll blessing sheet written by a woman in the pre-modern period (est. $10/ 15,000). The sale also features numerous early printed books, original decorative bindings, and several important archival collections, including one comprising early documents of Jewish Americana (est. $15/20,000).

The highlight of the fine art on offer in the sale is Moritz Daniel Oppenheim’s The Betrothal from 1862 (est. $250/350,000). One of the most important Jewish genre painters of the 19th century, Oppenheim displays a love of detail in the present work, and portrays the time-honored tradition of a suitor appealing to the father of his intended bride with civility and respect. An additional highlight is The Newlywed by Isidor Kaufmann (est. $250/250,000). The young woman in the painting wears traditional Ashkenazi attire and she is rendered with acutely focused realism, a characteristic that is present in many of his works.

The silver section in the December auction includes two important lots from the Nottingham Hebrew Congregation – A German Parcel-Gilt Silver Torah Shield, Frantz Wagner, Hamburg, 1716-28 and later (est. $100/150,000), and a Pair of German Parcel-Gilt Silver Torah Finials, Christian Ludwig Pintsch, Berlin, circa 1755 (est. $200/300,000), given to the congregation in 1913 by Gustave Meyer in memory of his father, Reverand David Meyer, the minister to the Nottingham congregation from 1858-1868.

Other highlights include a Pair of Early Dutch Silver Torah Finials, Amsterdam, 1706 or 1682 (est. $100/150,000) and a Galician Parcel-Gilt Silver Torah Crown, circa 1811 (est. $80/100,000).

*Estimate does not include buyer’s premium

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