The famed Sotheby’s auction house will offer A Treasured Legacy: The Michael & Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection in a dedicated auction on April 29 in New York.
The exceptional and rare objects that comprise the Steinhardt Collection illustrate the sweep of Jewish history from antiquity through the 20th century and across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. The approximately 400 lots in the auction – which bear a wide range of estimates – touch every aspect of Jewish life, and represent the dual worlds of observance and cultural heritage in both the home and the synagogue.
After an initial exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from January 25 – 31, highlights from the Steinhardt Collection will travel to Moscow and Jerusalem, before returning to New York for formal exhibition from April 24 – 28. In addition, Sotheby’s specialists will travel to Hong Kong, Singapore, Brazil, and to cities across the United States and Europe, giving illustrated talks about the collection in advance of the sale.
“We are privileged to present the Steinhardt Collection at Sotheby’s,” commented David Redden, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman. “This truly comprehensive collection of Judaica joins such legendary names as Sassoon, Zagayski, Delmonico and Montefiore, all historic auctions at Sotheby’s that celebrated Jewish culture and history.”
Mr. Steinhardt said, “I began assembling this collection more than 30 years ago. I found it inspiring to be close to precious objects of Jewish history and culture. Researching their ownership histories and sharing many of them with the public through museum exhibitions has been particularly gratifying. Now, at 72, it is time for the collection to be passed on to a new generation, in the hopes that it will encourage them in turn to discover a rich Jewish heritage and the joy of owning a piece of their past.”
Jennifer Roth, Head of Sotheby’s Judaica and Israeli Art departments, said, “The Steinhardt Collection contains objects of remarkable variety and outstanding quality. Here we see the material culture of the Jews throughout the centuries laid out before our eyes. There are examples from every corner of the globe, and we anticipate that the collection will have profound meaning for Jews everywhere.”
Michael and Judy Steinhardt are well known as both philanthropists and dedicated patrons of the arts. From his start at Loeb, Rhodes & Co., a precursor to Merrill Lynch, Mr. Steinhardt launched his legendary career in hedge fund management that included the founding of Steinhardt Partners in 1967. Their many charitable causes include: cofounding Taglit-Birthright Israel, which supports visits for young Jews to Israel; significant donations to The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University; and creating The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, which seeks to revitalize Jewish identity through educational and cultural initiatives. Since their honeymoon in Israel, Mr. and Mrs. Steinhardt have been dedicated supporters of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and numerous other causes including the foundation of The Steinhardt Natural History Building at Tel Aviv University.
The Steinhardt Collection is led by The Frankfurt Mishneh Torah, circa 1457-1465, one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts ever created (est. $4.5/6 million). The text, authored by Moses Maimonides, the supreme Jewish writer and philosopher of the Middle Ages, is a synthesis of Jewish law and arguably the most important medieval Hebrew work of any kind. The present manuscript, with its superbly-penned text and magnificent series of illustrations, was originally conceived in two volumes. The first part, now in the Vatican (MS. Ross.498), comprises books I-V, the present volume consists of books VII-XIV. It features six splendid original illustrations as well as thirty-two smaller images and marginal illuminations and is by far the most profusely illustrated manuscript of the Mishneh Torah ever made.
One of the earliest pieces in the collection is A North German Bronze Lion Aquamanile, created in the late-12th century and featuring a medieval Hebrew inscription on the lion’s side (est. $200/400,000). Aquamanilia are figural vessels typically containing water and used for washing hands – this particular example’s inscription implies that it was adopted for Jewish religious ceremonial use either by the local Kohanim (Hebrew for ‘Priests’) or in a private home. There are currently only four known aquamanilia bearing Hebrew inscriptions from the medieval era, making this example extremely rare.
An Important German Silver Hanging Sabbath Lamp, Johann Adam Boller, Frankfurt, circa 1710-20 shows the wealth and refinement achieved by German Jewish communities by the early 18th century, and suggests their burgeoning power in the face of traditional restrictions as well as the destruction of the Frankfurt ghetto by fire in 1711 (est. $800,000/1.2 million). The Frankfurt workshops of the Boller family – Christians, as Jews were not allowed in guilds – were among the most prolific and accomplished at making of Judaica at the time. Similar lamps are in the Israel Museum, the Jewish Museum, New York, and the Skirball Collection in Los Angeles, but are almost unknown in private hands.
Each year between 1679 and 1778, Bevis Marks Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom – presented the Lord Mayor of London with a gift of a piece of silver. A Rare George I Silver “Lord Mayor’s Dish”, Robert Hill, London was presented to the mayor in 1719, heaped with sweets (right, est. $400/600,000). The dish was sign of appreciation from the Jewish community for their freedoms in London, at a time when they were confined to ghettos or denied residence in many European cities.
The Venetian Ghetto was not only an intellectual and economic powerhouse, but also a major center of production for Judaica for all of the Italian states, with pieces preserved in synagogues in Florence and Rome. Examples from the Steinhardt Collection, led by An Important Italian Silver Torah Crown and Pair of Torah Finials, Maker’s Mark CL, Assay Master Zuanne Premuda, Venice, circa 1730 (left, est. $500/700,000), showcase the exceptional craftsmanship of Venetian silversmiths. They also bear comparison with the trove of pieces recently rediscovered after being hidden in the Ghetto during World War II, which were restored by the international group Venitian Heritage. Much of the finest Italian Judaica is still held by synagogues in Italy, and it is rare for pieces of this collection’s quality to appear on the market.
Another highlight of the mid-18th century Italian material in the collection is an illuminated and lavishly-decorated Esther Scroll with an Accompanying Blessing Sheet (est. $600/800,000). The highly figural drawings and text on the present scroll tell the dramatic tale around which the annual celebration of Purim is based (in 2013, falling on February 24 February): Esther, Queen of Persia, stops a plan by the King’s advisor to destroy her Jewish people.. Esther’s legend is also the subject of many old master paintings, as it is known in Christian iconography as well.
Leading both the Russian and the 19th century section is The Rouchomovsky Skeleton: A Russian Gold Articulated Skeleton in a Silver-Gilt Coffin, Israel Rouchomovsky, Odessa, 1892-96 (est. $150/250,000). Rouchomovsky was an exceptional Russian craftsman who drew inspiration from the recent Scythian gold discoveries in the Crimea. He gained international fame when he was revealed as the creator of a gold tiara bought by the Louvre in 1896 as a rare
Antique – Louvre curators had been certain that such a work was impossible by modern craftsman, and it was only proven that Rouchomovsky was its maker when he was brought to Paris and re-created part of the tiara in 1903.
The Steinhardt Collection is equally remarkable for its significant holdings of items used in Jewish homes worldwide, which come to auction with estimates that offer both new and seasoned collectors the chance to acquire culturally historic and religious objects at accessible price points. This survey of materials includes: Hanukkah menorahs ranging from the modest to highly ornate; charity boxes dedicated to helping everything from hospitals to schools, from burial societies to planting trees in Israel; textiles including Torah Binders made from baby’s swaddling cloths and donated to the community when the child is first brought to Synagogue; and marriage contracts and marriage rings.
Sotheby’s is the only international auction house to offer regular sales of Judaica, which it holds every December in New York alongside the annual Israeli & International Art auctions. Sotheby’s has been entrusted with the most significant collections in this field – including Property from the Collection of Michael and Doris Zagayski, A Collection from the Sassoon Family Estate, and Important Hebrew Manuscripts from the Montefiore Endowment – and has generated record prices for many significant objects ranging from Hebrew manuscripts to ceremonial objects and textiles.