Posts Tagged ‘Judaica auctions


Sotheby’s Upcoming Jewish Auctions – Part 1 – Important Judaica

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…


Hamisha Humshei Torah - Printed in 1561

Hamisha Humshei Torah – Printed in 1561

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.

This medical book appeared around 1452

This medical book appeared around 1452

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.

Oppenhaim's the Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara - painted in 1862, four years after the tragic event.

Oppenhaim’s The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara – painted in 1862, four years after the tragic event.

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.

Painted circa 1897

Painted circa 1897

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.


Jewish Ceremonial Art – The Soul of a People: Part 2

In many an auction there have often been unexpected surprises, such as an item that was estimated as a high seller failing to reach even the lowest threshold of its estimated value or an item selling for an amount far above the expected. Last Thursday’s auction, at Kestenbaum and Company, was no exception. While some lots may not have sold at the expected price, others indeed went for higher sums.

Kestenb12Just as art reveals the artist’s soul, and ceremonial art reveals the soul of a people, how and why later generations value that art speaks volumes of that particular people’s past. Last Thursday, quite a few items exceeded their estimates but two of them – in particular – demonstrate to me what we, as Jews, still treasure today.

UKRANIAN/POLISH SILVER SPICE TOWER. Single tier tower, engraved on four sides with animals representing the adage from Ethics of the Fathers: Bold as a Leopard, Swift as an Eagle, Fleet as a Deer, Strong as a Lion (Chapter 5:23). Set on knop stem and matching square base. Marked. Height: 7 inches.

Circa 1820: $6,000-$8,000

The above item sold for $15,000. Frankly, from a strictly artistic point of view, there were more beautiful, more intricately designed spice towers for havdala, even in this very auction; the particular lot, however, stood out for its inscriptions telling a Jew that he must IsiKaufwdalways be ready to act with alacrity, and defy every obstacle on his way to perform any one of Hakodosh Boruch Hu‘s commandments. While the esthetics of an item are important, its message and its function are – obviously – of greater value to us as a people…  even in the 21st century!

The second item I find worthy of mentioning is a mixed media work…

(Kaufman, Isidor. After). Studying the Talmud. Wood and mixed media (intarsia-style). Framed. 23.5 x 19.5 inches

Mid 20 century: $100-$150

Based on the Isidor Kaufman painting ‘Studying the Talmud’

The above item sold for $1500, ten times the highest estimated amount! Why? Because not only do we Jews value tradition, not only do we value books, we treasure learning and scholarship. Again the personal values of the buyer far outshine the artistic value of the work.

Attending this auction of Jewish Ceremonial Art showed me an important part of our character as a people. It reinforced the knowledge that no matter how far down the rungs of spiritual height our generation has descended, no matter how jaded we’ve become in the surroundings of the present day world, the values and beliefs our ancestors held are still engraved in our hearts. The flames of yahadut are indeed eternal and will forever warm our collective soul.



Jewish Ceremonial Art – The Soul of a People


Jewish Ceremonial Art – The Soul of a People

Art reveals the soul of a people, ceremonial art is a reflection of their longings at any given time. Jewish ceremonial art is an expression of the connection between the people and the Almighty who chose them as His patrimony.

This coming Thursday, the 20th of June Kestenbaum & Company (242 West 30th Street; New York, NY 10001 – Tel: 212.366.1197 – Fax: 212.366.1368) is auctioning off 257 Ceremonial Objects and Works of Art. The auction will start at 3:00 pm precisely.

Leafing through the auction’s catalog I found many lots that were of interest to me because of their beauty, antiquity, memories of similar objects or combinations of all or any of the three.

For many decades now, I've been using a similar becher that originally belonged to my great grandfather, in Poland, given to me at my Bar Mitzvah by an aunt that moved to Uruguay in 1928.

For many decades now, I’ve been using a similar becher that originally belonged to my great grandfather, in Poland, given to me at my Bar Mitzvah by an aunt that moved to Uruguay in 1928.

Pair of Rare Safed Silver Beakers. Exquisitely engraved in typical Safed Fashion with Holy Land sights. Polish Marks. Height 1.75 inches.

19th Century. $2500-3500

Two German spice towers flanking an Austrian spice container

Two German spice towers flanking an Austrian spice container, used for havdala

(left) Tall German Silver Filigree Spice Tower. Four graduating rectangular tiers with filigree ball and flag final in the form of a deer. Matching filigree base set on ball and claw feet. Single bell on belfry and belfry section and circled at base by 4 pennants. Hinged door. 13.5 inches.

18th Century. $16,000-$18,000

A very fine and complete example of a classic form.


(center) Austrian Silver Guilt Spice Container. Pear shaped container, floral and foliate patterning throughout. Flowering stalk, attendant peacok. Set on leafy base. Height 5 inches.

19th Century. $6,000-$8,000


(right) German Silver Spice Tower. Two graduating hexagonal tiers, chased and pierced. Upper section with arched windows revealing three Jewish figures (one restored) holding candle, prayer-book and goblet. Six orbits at steeple and flag finial. Set on figural stem and circular base. Hinged door. Master. Julius Meineke. Height 10.25 inches.

Halberstadt 1725. $30,000-$40,000

Ceremonial art also shows up on parchment, vellum or paper (and there are some wonderful examples of each among the items to be auctioned), as in this megillah

A beautiful Megiilath Esther

A beautiful Megilath Esther

Megilath Esther. Complete Esther Scroll ENTIRELY ENGRAVED on vellum.

Composed on two membranes in eleven columns, with additional introductory column entitled: “Megilath Esther in Zichron Todah.” Columns of text within floriated borders; introductory column with depictions of the characters that populate the Purim story. Composed by Tueringer the Scribe and dedicated to David Loewe Elkin. Housed in contemporary metal tube. Signature at end. 5.5 by 33.5 inches.

Cologne, Cologne 1843. $10,000-$15,000


Few engraved Esther Scrolls exist. The Hungarian artist, Mordechai Donath created one in Nitra prior to the current Cologne example.

Another rare item…

Not much is left from Jewish Estonia...

Not much is left from Jewish Estonia…

Unique Estonian Silver Torah Shield. Finely engraved throughout with elaborate fruit, foliate and shell forms; central Decalogue flanked by Moses and Aron. Master. Carl Daniel Bauer, marked. 7.5×6.5 inches.


This rare Torah shield is fully hallmarked with the initials of Master Carl Daniel Bauer, from the city of Reval, 1798-1815 and with the “83” standard and city mark. The shield is also dated in Hebrew 1823.

Reval, present day Tallin, capital of Estonia and formerly part of Russia – had just a bare handful of Jews living there at the time this Torah shield was produced. Very few items of Judaica emanate from Estonia.

It’s hard to decide what to discuss in this short post, there are many items used at every occasion of the Jewish life cycle, but there are also works of art in this auction; art works which stand on their own merit as a captivated moment of daily life, its pleasures, its travails…

There a quite a paintings, portraits and slices of daily life.

There a quite a paintings, portraits and slices of daily life.

Koloszvary, Laijos. The Chess Players. Oil on canvass. Signed lower left. Framed. 18.5×39.5 inches

Hungarian (1875-1937). $10,000-$12,000

With items estimated from as low as $100 there is enough in this auction for everyone to walk away with a piece of history, a piece of Jewish art; from joyous events to those items commemorating our darkest moments, you’ll find here the laughter and the tears of the collective Jewish soul.


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