Lighting the Lights

Posted in Art Market, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on December 11, 2009

At the start of Hanukkah, some eighteenth-century highlights from the recent sale at Sotheby’s in New York of Important Judaica (Sale 8606, 24 November 2009), as drawn from Sotheby’s website:

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Lot 86: Property of a Descendant of Selig Meier Goldschmidt – An Important German Parcel-Gilt Silver Hanukah Lamp, probably from Augsburg, ca. 1750
Estimate: 200,000—300,000 USD; Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium: 542,500 USD

Height 13in. by length 12 3/8 in.

Raised at the front on four lion couchant feet, supporting scroll-based columns draped with floral pendants, each with two putti supporters and topped by figures of Judith, with sword and head, and David, with sling and spear, the backplate centered by a baroque cartouche surrounded by diaper and flanked by cornucopiae spilling flowers and topped by a flower-filled urn, all surmounted by two draped putti (formerly holding a shamas, now lacking), the leaf-form fonts above a shaped apron with fruit pendants, the lion rampant holding the Tablets applied probably later to backplate

Marked with large and small Austrian control mark for Brünn (now Brno, Czech Republic) 1806-07, and twice with Dutch control mark for foreign work (used 1813-1893)

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Lot 160: Medical Diploma of Israel Barukh Olmo, Manuscript on Vellum from Padua, 1755
Estimate: 25,000—35,000 USD. Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium: 31,250 USD

4 leaves (9 ¼ x 6 ¾ in.; 236 x 170 mm); Written in brown and gold ink on vellum, f. 4 blank. Decorated. Contemporary mottled calf, gilt tooled border.

From the 16th through the 18th centuries, the prestigious medical school of the University of Padua was one of the only European institutions of higher education that allowed Jews to attend. According to university records, only 230 Jews graduated in the more than two centuries between 1517-1721. It was customary, upon graduation, to commission diplomas in the form of small richly decorated booklets and the format and style of these diplomas was unique to universities in Northern Italy. The text of the standard diploma, however, included references to Christianity which were unsuitable for the Jewish graduates. As may be seen in the present lot, the university, demonstrating considerable tolerance, allowed for the alteration of the customary Christian formulae. Whereas the standard diplomas from Padua began with the words “In Christi Nomine aeterni” and recorded the date as “Anno a Christi nativitate,” diplomas created for Jews substituted these phrases with “In Nomine Dei aeterni” and “currente anno.”

The coat of arms of the Olmo family, featuring a spouting fountain and a stalk of wheat on either side of a verdant tree, is prominently depicted on the frontispiece within a gilt medallion. Israel Barukh Olmo, the recipient of this diploma, was born in Ferrara to Jacob Daniel Olmo (1690-1757), a noted Italian rabbi and poet. Jacob served as the head of the yeshivah in Ferrara and also as the rabbi of the Ashkenazi synagogue. He authored numerous works including occasional poems and hymns, legal decisions, a poetic drama entitled Eden Arukh, as well as a volume documenting the rabbis of the Ashkenazi synagogue of Ferrara. Israel Barukh Olmo followed in his father’s footsteps and, in addition to his medical studies, authored occasional poems such as the one celebrating the wedding of Asher Chefetz (Anselmo Gentili) and Abigail Luzzatto circa 1750 (JTS library MS 9027 V1:9).

Literature & References: Vivian B. Mann, ed. Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy (1989), p. 235; Natalia Berger, Jews and Medicine: Religion, Culture, Science (1995).

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Lot 169: A Magnificent Illustrated Esther Scroll, from Prague, ca. 1700
Estimate: 100,000—120,000 USD. Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium: 134,500 USD

Ink on parchment (12 ¼ x 103 in.; 310 x 2620 mm). Text written in square Hebrew script arranged in 16 columns of 25 lines on four membranes. Few very light stains. Housed in a turned cylindrical wooden case.

This splendid scroll of Esther is an extremely rare example of a megillah with a superb engraved border created by the artist Paul-Jean Franck. The eighteenth century witnessed the growth and success of numerous publishers of Hebrew books. These printers, presumably looking to further expand their market, undertook to produce illustrated megillot for use on the holiday of Purim. Recognizing that according to Jewish law, Esther scrolls must be written by hand in order to be ritually fit, the printers engraved highly decorative borders onto prepared parchment and left blocks of blank space within these borders, so that a scribe might insert the biblical text. The majority of eighteenth-century megillot with engraved borders were produced in Amsterdam and Venice. This Bohemian scroll, however, is an exceptionally rare example of a printed border published outside of these two centers. The signature of its remarkably skilled engraver, Paul-Jean Franck, can be found in the first panel of this scroll. . .

Literature & References: Cohen, Mintz and Schrijver. A Journey through Jewish Worlds. Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books (Amsterdam: 2009), pp. 266-67.

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