The magnificent Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor created some 700 years ago, is a scribal masterpiece that attests to the vibrancy of the medieval Jewish community, according to Sotheby’s which on Tuesday sold it in an auction in New York for $8.3 million.
“Written in a distinctive and elegant Hebrew script, this rare prayer book contains the liturgy for the two holiest festivals on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” the auction house noted. “Preserved in exceptionally fine condition, it is one of only a small number of illustrated Ashkenazic mahzorim extant, none of which is known to be in private hands.”
For a century, the Luzzatto mahzor had been available to the public in exhibitions and to scholars for research, which is why the auction drew criticism from scholars who were concerned that this unique treasure would disappear in a safe belonging to a private collector. Israeli art historian Sefy Hendler told Haaretz before the auction that the Luzzatto mahzor is the “Jewish Mona Lisa” – perfect and priceless. He urged the state of Israel to buy it for the National Library’s collection.
The Paris-based Alliance Israelite Universelle, the Jewish cultural organization that let go of this treasure said they were forced into it because of their steep debts.
According to Sotheby’s the mahzor is named for its illustrious former owner, Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865), a distinguished Italian Jewish scholar, poet, and theologian, as well as a renowned antiquarian book collector. After Luzzatto’s death, many of his manuscripts and rare printed books were acquired for the collections of major European cultural institutions. In 1870, this important mahzor was purchased for the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle.
Then they ran into steep debts.