An exquisite Hebrew manuscript from 15th-century Italy has been acquired jointly by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the museums announced Monday.
The manuscript is half of a rare illuminated copy of the Mishneh Torah, a key 12th-century legal work by the philosopher Maimonides. It is believed to have been created in northern Italy in the mid-1400s.
The craftsmen behind the illuminations — who scholars believe were likely Christian artists employed in this case by Jews — used expensive pigments and gold leaf to decorate the Hebrew text with illustrations depicting figures in colorful dress and skies of lapis lazuli blue.
Coming around the time of the advent of the printing press, the volume marks “the last gasp of great High Renaissance manuscript illumination,” James Snyder, the Israel Museum’s director, said Monday.
“In this case, it comes in the form of a manuscript that couldn’t be more central to the evolution of Jewish cultural life,” he said.
Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said in a statement that the book a “justly celebrated work that attests to the refined aesthetic sensibility of members of Italy’s Jewish community as well as to the opulence of North Italian book decoration in the 15th century.”
The book is already on loan to the Israel Museum, where restoration work on the manuscript was completed in 2010. It will now be displayed in a rotation arrangement by the two museums.
The original manuscript was divided into two in the 19th century, and the other half is currently in the Vatican library. The section now owned by the Israel Museum and the Met was acquired by a Jewish family in Frankfurt in 1950, and was then purchased in 2007 by the philanthropists Michael and Judy Steinhardt of New York. The Steinhardts were among the donors behind this week’s acquisition of the manuscript by the two museums, with several other noted collectors putting up a portion of the price.
The cost of the manuscript was not divulged.