News | October 20, 2021

The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor Sells for $8.3 Million at Sotheby’s

Courtesy of Sotheby's

New York -- Yesterday at Sotheby’s in New York, an illustrated Hebrew prayerbook dating to the late 13th/early 14th century in Southern Germany, sold for $8.3 million – well above the pre-sale estimate of $4/6 million – and established a new auction record for a Hebrew manuscript. The prayerbook was on offer from the collection of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) to support the institution’s educational mission. The work was acquired by a renowned American collector, who has one of the most significant collections of Medieval Hebrew manuscripts in the world.
A scribal masterpiece that attests to the vibrancy of the medieval Jewish community in Europe, The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor attracted fierce competition from four bidders – three over the phone and one in the auction room – over a nearly five-minute bidding battle. The prayerbook is the second most valuable object of Judaica ever to sell at auction, comparable only to the Bomberg Talmud from the Valmadonna Library, which sold for $9.3 million – a world auction record for any object of Judaica. As a remarkable living document, the prayerbook presents an incomparable chronicle of Jewish communities and their migration throughout medieval Europe, with less than 20 surviving examples from this period and geography believed to exist today.
Written in a distinctive and elegant Hebrew script by a Jewish scribe-artist in the region of Bavaria, over the ensuing centuries, The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor found new homes in Alsace, the Lake Constance region, Northern Italy, and France. Numerous notes and annotations handwritten in the manuscript’s margins bear witness to its many journeys through different countries. At each step of the volume’s journey, its new owners adjusted the text to reflect contemporary local custom and practices, adding to the prayerbook’s complexity and richness, as well as showcasing the deeply personal histories of the communities that cherished it.
The tradition of illustrated Hebrew prayerbooks first began to flourish in Southern Germany in the mid-thirteenth century and only a small number – believed to be less than twenty – are known to exist. Of those examples, none is known to be in private hands.  As such, The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor is undoubtedly the most important medieval illustrated prayerbook to come to market in a century.
The mahzor is named after its illustrious owner, Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865), a distinguished Italian Jewish scholar, poet, theologian and 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 by the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) – the first modern international Jewish organization – founded in 1860 in Paris. The mahzor was on offer from the collection of The Alliance Israélite Universelle, with proceeds from the sale used to support AIU’s educational mission, and advance its plans for future educational projects, scholarships for students wishing to attend Jewish school, new programs related to special needs students, and digital transformation needed for the dissemination of Jewish culture to the wider public.
Full details on the mahzor can be found here.