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“Shared” Ex-Steinhardt Mishneh Torah on View at Metropolitan Museum for Only Three Months


As seen at presale exhibition at Sotheby’s (before it was withdrawn from sale), the same page to which the Met has opened the ex-Steinhardt Mishneh Torah for current display
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The Mishneh Torah, Italian, c. 1457, which was previously owned by collectors Michael and Judy Steinhardt, went on view last week at the Metropolitan Museum, but surprisingly, according to the museum’s press release, it will “remain at the Metropolitan through January 5, 2014”—a mere three months.

The Met’s announcement also states:

The manuscript will be open to an illustration in the Sefer Shoftim, or “Book of Judges,” in which an accused man under close guard stands before a bench of judges assembled in a lush, outdoor court. The golden word “Shoftim” (Judges) seems to hang before a curtain of blue, as knights joust above.

That’s the same page to which Sotheby’s had opened the manuscript when I attended its presale exhibition for the Apr. 29 sale of objects from the Steinhardts’ collection of Judaica. The manuscript’s rich illuminations were created by the Master of the Barbo Missal.

As CultureGrrl readers may remember, this volume, which contains Books 7 to 14 of the magnum opus of the legendary Jewish philosopher Maimonides, was withdraw from auction at the last minute, to be jointly acquired by the Met and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. It had been displayed on “extended loan” for three years at the Israel Museum, which previously had restored it to exhibition-worthy condition.

The withdrawn manuscript had been estimated to bring $4.5-6 million at auction. But the amounts paid by the Met and the Israel Museum have never been disclosed. Given the brief duration of its visit to the Met, I’m wondering if the split between the two institutions was unequal.

At the time of the purchase, the Met said it would announce at a later date the funding sources for this partial acquisition. Last week’s press release said that it was bought for the Met “with Director’s Funds and Judy and Michael Steinhardt Gift.”

This made me wonder whether this was a partial purchase/partial gift arrangement, with the amount of the purchase not covered by the Director’s Funds in the form of a gift from the Steinhardts. A week ago (with two follow-ups) I sent questions about that a few other details to the Met’s press office, which promised a prompt reply. I also asked for information about the rotation schedule, after the Mishneh Torah leaves the Met in January.

I have received no answers. If I learn more, you’ll learn more.

Images of six pages from the volume are on the Met’s website, here. The Met will simultaneously display another Mishneh Torah, created in Germany between 1300 and 1400, on loan from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

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