April 13, 2012 / 10:43 AM / 7 years ago

Rare 15th century Hebrew prayer book in Paris sale

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare 15th century festival prayer book written in Hebrew and estimated to be worth up to $800,000 will be exhibited in New York next week ahead of its sale at Christie’s Books and Manuscripts auction in Paris next month.

The 400-page illuminated prayer book, or Mahzor, that was probably made in Florence is considered one of the finest and rarest of its kind and has never been publicly exhibited.

The lavishly illustrated book on vellum, which features Renaissance motifs, contains daily prayers and blessings for Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth.

“It is very beautifully written and richly decorated with illuminations of mixed styles,” said Kay Sutton, the director of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the international books department at Christie’s.

The elaborately decorated frontispiece is in the style of Giovanni di Giuliano Boccardi, who is one of the last representatives of the golden age of Florentine Renaissance Illumination.

“This is the only Hebrew manuscript that we know of that he worked on,” said Sutton, adding other decorations were done by a Jewish illuminator.

“The other thing that is really quite exceptional about it is that it remains such an intact, unified object in a binding that it must have received early in the 16th century which has the coat of arms of its early Jewish owner,” she explained in an interview.

Sutton, who described the prayer book as one of the most spectacular and exceptional works of its kind, said such a piece rarely comes on the open market.

“One of the fascinating aspects of these manuscripts is that they act as a testament as well to Jewish history and the Diaspora,” she added.

During the 15th century the Jewish community in Florence flourished, its position closely linked to the powerful Medici family.

The prayer book, which has been in the same family for nearly 100 years, will be exhibited in New York on April 16 and 17th at Christie’s New York headquarters before it is auctioned in Paris on May 11.

“It is obviously a very special commission,” said Sutton, adding a potential buyer of the prayer book could be a discerning and discriminating private collector, or a museum.

“It is always the case in the auction world that we are in the dark until we see the name of the buyer on the invoice.”

Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Paul Casciato

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