Sotheby’s (1334 York Avenue; NY, NY 10021; Tel:212.606.7000) is having two exhibits on subjects of Jewish interest, prior to the auctions on Tuesday, the 17th of December. There are a hundred and sixty one lots in the Important Judaica exhibit, with one hundred and forty two lots in Israeli and International Art.
Many unusual items are shown in the Important Judaica section, including paintings, ceremonial art, books and more, ranging from antiquity to the 20th century in age. Quite a number of items impressed me, following is a small sampling…
The above pictured item, Lot 136, includes the full Chumash together with RaSH”I and a condensed version of Elija Mizrahi‘s Sefer Mizrahi (a supercommentary on RaSH”I), titled Kitzur Mizrahi, as authored by Jacob Marcaria in Riva di Trento. Marcaria was a physician, printer and author. He printed a small number of titles in the press of German Rabbi Yosef Ottolengo – who had been licensed to print Hebrew books by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo, Bishop of Trento. Included here are the Megillot (Scrolls) with commentaries by RaSH”I and Yitzchak Arama. It was obviously meant as a synagogue volume as it also includes the haftarot for the whole year as well as commentaries to aid in understanding these additional biblical readings. It is estimated to sell for $5,000 to $7,000.
Another book I found compelling was Sefatayim Yishak, Lot 143. In this slim volume are two letters written by Rabbi Jacob Yehoshua Falk – an ally of Rabbi Yaakov Emden – and Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Amsterdam – another staunch Emden ally and his brother-in-law. The letters, directed to the Rabbinical Court in Prague, expressed great concern and opposition to the newly appointed Rabbi of the German cities of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck, Rabbi Yonathan Eybeschutz. Since Rabbi Eybeschutz‘ son and brother were known as Shabtai Tzvi followers, Rabbi Emden (whose father, the Chacham Tzvi, had been involved in a bitter fight against Nechemya Ochayon, after the latter was proven to be a full fledged Sabbatean) suspected Rabbi Eybeschutz‘ of secretly being a Sabbatean (especially after the latter gave a pregnant woman an amulet he wrote). This item is estimated at $10,000 to $12,000, it was printed in Altona in 1752.
More interesting books, among others, include Robert Estienne‘s Biblia Hebraica – in eight volumes – printed during a two and half year period from 1543 to 1546 (Lot 137), estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. An unusual collection of moral fables and animal stories, Meshal Ha-Kadmoni (Lot 134), by Yitzchak Ibn Shahula (and discussed by David Wachtel during last evening’s broadcast, on our radio show), has an estimated range of $30,000 to $40,000. It has some eighty woodcut illustrations and the material is based on the Talmud and Midrashim, with kabbalistic and Indian influences.
A very unusual tome, which appeared in Catania (Sicily), is a Compendium of Medical Treatises in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew (Lot 96). While Arab copies of some of these works are relatively common, only three other copies in Hebrew letters are known. Jews lived in Catania as early as 383 B.C and many references to this town indicate, in later centuries, the presence of of numerous Jewish physicians. It’s price is expected to come in at around $8,000 to $12,000.
Another rare treasure is the first printed edition of the Talmud Yerushalmi by Daniel Bomberg (Lot 133). It took two years to print it (1522 to 1524), and was based on Yechiel ben Yekuthiel ben Benyamin Ha-Rofe‘s work from 1289, known as the Leyden Manuscript. It is expected to sell between $20,000 to $30,000.
Among the paintings in this auction, two stand out. Moritz Daniel Oppenheim‘s The Kidnapping of Egardo Mortara (Lot 60)*, depicts a horrible event from 1858 that drew international interest and world outrage against the Pope and the Catholic Church. This barbaric, unashamedly antisemitic act, was the catalyst that brought about the Resorgimento – the unification of Italy under King Vittorio Emmanuele and the erosion of Papal power over the country in 1870). It is estimated to bring in $200,000 to $300,000. Isidor Kaufman‘s Portrait of a Young Rabbi (Lot 61), is another very powerful painting, with estimates ranging from $100,000 to $150,000.
The two watercolors by Georg Emanuel Opitz (Lot 62) (not a Jewish artist, though many of his works show Jews), depict rather whimsically a Jewish teacher punishing one of his students as the other kids make fun of their mentor behind his back, as explained by Jennifer Roth last evening on our radio show. The second watercolor shows a mother trying to intercede – on behalf of her daughter and her nervous suitor – with the father to accept the match. Both watercolors are expected to go for $8,000 to 12,000.
There are also many other items ranging from Torah finials, to crowns, to breastplates, to candelabra and more. All in all, this is a superb collection of items spanning hundreds of years and into the 20th century. Truly Important Judaica!
* The white colored streaks in Oppenheim’s painting above do not show damage to the canvas, they are nothing more than reflections of the light in the exhibition hall.