The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, has announced the long-term loan of an extraordinary 15th-century illuminated manuscript – a handwritten copy of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides – from Judy and Michael Steinhardt. The manuscript has undergone full restoration in the Israel Museum’s Paper Conservation Laboratory and will be presented in the reinstalled galleries of its new Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Wing for Jewish Art and Life, in conjunction with the opening of the Museum’s renewed campus on July 26, 2010.
Created in Italy in ca.1457-1460, this beautifully illustrated Hebrew text includes the final eight books of the Mishneh Torah, the monumental and first systematic codification of Jewish law. The manuscript features 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 this important compendium and of Maimonides’ works in general. The first volume of this work, comprising its initial chapters, is in the Rossi Collection of the Vatican Library in Rome and was displayed at the Israel Museum in 2005, on special loan in honor of the Museum’s 40th anniversary.
“The Mishneh Torah adds importantly to our extensive collection of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts and greatly enhances the display of unique items presented in the renewed galleries of our new Jewish Art and Life Wing, with its emphasis on the richness of sacred and secular life among the world’s Jewish communities,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “We are deeply grateful to Judy and Michael Steinhardt for their ongoing and exemplary commitment to the Museum and for the unprecedented opportunity to present this rare treasure to our public.”
The two volumes of the Mishneh Torah became separated between 1838 and 1854, when the first part was purchased by a non-Jewish collector, whose manuscript holdings were later acquired by the Vatican Library. The second volume reached Germany as part of the collection of Avraham Merzbacher of Munich and was later presented to the Frankfurt Municipal Library. In 1950, a Frankfurt 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, who entrusted it to the Israel Museum for restoration and long-term loan for display.