View full screen - View 1 of Lot 178. A RICHLY ILLUSTRATED MINIATURE BOOK OF PRAYERS, SEDER BIRKAT HA-MAZON U-BIRKHOT HA-NEHENIN (GRACE AFTER MEALS AND OCCASIONAL BLESSINGS), WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY NATHAN BEN SAMSON OF MESERITCH (MORAVIA), 1728.
178

A RICHLY ILLUSTRATED MINIATURE BOOK OF PRAYERS, SEDER BIRKAT HA-MAZON U-BIRKHOT HA-NEHENIN (GRACE AFTER MEALS AND OCCASIONAL BLESSINGS), WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY NATHAN BEN SAMSON OF MESERITCH (MORAVIA), 1728

Estimate:

150,000

to
- 250,000 USD

A RICHLY ILLUSTRATED MINIATURE BOOK OF PRAYERS, SEDER BIRKAT HA-MAZON U-BIRKHOT HA-NEHENIN (GRACE AFTER MEALS AND OCCASIONAL BLESSINGS), WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY NATHAN BEN SAMSON OF MESERITCH (MORAVIA), 1728

A RICHLY ILLUSTRATED MINIATURE BOOK OF PRAYERS, SEDER BIRKAT HA-MAZON U-BIRKHOT HA-NEHENIN (GRACE AFTER MEALS AND OCCASIONAL BLESSINGS), WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY NATHAN BEN SAMSON OF MESERITCH (MORAVIA), 1728

Estimate:

150,000

to
- 250,000 USD

A RICHLY ILLUSTRATED MINIATURE BOOK OF PRAYERS, SEDER BIRKAT HA-MAZON U-BIRKHOT HA-NEHENIN (GRACE AFTER MEALS AND OCCASIONAL BLESSINGS), WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY NATHAN BEN SAMSON OF MESERITCH (MORAVIA), 1728


29 folios (2 3/4 x 2 in.; 70 x 50 mm) on parchment; written in Ashkenazic square (main titles, headings, and text body) and semi-cursive vaybertaytsh (Yiddish instructions) scripts in brown ink; illustrations in ink and gouache; numerous owners’ inscriptions in pencil on parchment flyleaves, mostly in German or Yiddish, dating from 1804 to 1840, relating mainly to births. Illustrated title page; three decorated initial words; twenty-one text illustrations. Modern vellum over pasteboard in a matching slipcase.


The early decades of the eighteenth century witnessed a remarkable resurgence in the production of elaborately decorated Hebrew manuscripts when wealthy court Jews in Germany and Central Europe began to commission exquisitely illustrated handwritten Hebrew books as luxury items.


Miniature volumes such as this one, containing a variety of Hebrew prayers and blessings, were frequently commissioned by grooms and presented to their brides on the occasion of their marriage. An inscription penned at the top of the title page of this manuscript indicates that this book was a gift to the bride Sheynkha. Delicately wrought artistic creations, these manuscripts combined eminently readable Hebrew and Yiddish texts with pleasing decorations and illustrations. The present volume comprises the texts for birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals), birkhot ha-nehenin (blessings over foods and scents), keri’at shema al ha-mittah (recitation of the Shema before retiring), and kiddush levanah (blessing for the New Moon).


The manuscript was created by Nathan ben Samson of Meseritsch, one of the most renowned scribe-artists of the eighteenth century. Nathan combined artistic talent with scribal dexterity to create lavish books of prayer and is known to have produced at least twenty-three illustrated Hebrew volumes between 1723 and 1739. His oeuvre covers a variety of liturgical texts, including Haggadot, Sabbath prayers, and the book of Psalms; the present volume, however, is one of only four known examples of Nathan’s Seder birkat ha-mazon. One of the other three such manuscripts, dated 1727, is in the collection of the Israel Museum (Ms. 180/066) and the other two, dated 1728 and 1729, are in private collections. The skillful use of color and attractively drawn scenes are emblematic of Nathan of Groß Meseritch’s lavish and vibrant artistic style.


The decorative elements within this manuscript consist of a decorated title page, three ornamented initial words (ff. 3r, 16v, 17r), and twenty-one text illustrations painted in brilliant color.


The subjects of the text illustrations are as follows:

1. A Jewish woman lighting Sabbath candles (f. 2r)

2. A man and a woman lighting a Hanukkah menorah: an illustration for the text inserted in the birkat ha-mazon on the holiday of Hanukkah (f. 4v)

3. The hanging of Haman and his ten sons: an illustration for the text inserted in the birkat ha-mazon on the holiday of Purim (f. 5v)

4. Four men seated at a table reciting the blessing over wine: an illustration for the blessing over wine (f. 11r)

5. A woman standing in a walled orchard: an illustration for the various blessings recited before eating fruit (f. 12v)

6. A plate of gourds and other vegetables: an illustration for the blessing recited before eating vegetables (f. 13r)

7. A woman standing in a walled garden beside three trees: an illustration for the various blessings recited upon smelling fragrant fruit (f. 13r)

8. An apothecary’s shop: an illustration for the blessing recited upon smelling fragrant spices (f. 13v)

9. Three lush potted flowering plants: an illustration for the blessing recited upon smelling fragrant trees and shrubs (f. 13v)

10. Townscape with a rainbow: an illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing a rainbow (f. 14r)

11. Townscape with anthropomorphic clouds: an illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing lightning (f. 14r)

12. Townscape of a walled city with angry clouds above: an illustration for the blessing recited upon hearing thunder (f. 14v)

13. A man on horseback sounding a horn, set between a leafy tree and a fortified town: an illustration for the blessing recited upon hearing good news and upon having positive experiences (f. 14v)

14. An image of a crowned king seated on a throne, flanked by three courtiers: an illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing royalty (f. 15r)

15. Three dwarfs standing beside a tall African native and an acrobat standing upside-down: an illustration for the blessing recited in praise of God “Who created mankind in many forms” (f. 15r)

16. A seascape, featuring three sailing vessels: an illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing the ocean (f. 15v)

17. A funeral scene with four men, dressed in black, carrying a bier on their shoulders: an illustration for the blessing recited upon hearing the news that someone has died (f. 15v)

18. A man sitting on his bed in front of two empty chairs: an illustration for the blessing recited upon recovering from an illness and rising from a sickbed (f. 16r)

19. An image of an angel (f. 21v)

20. An image of King David with his harp, illustrating the text of a chapter from Psalms (f. 24r) 

21. An image of four men standing outdoors and looking up at the new moon: an illustration for the blessing of the New Moon (f. 28r)


Literature

Ernest M. Namenyi, “The Illumination of Hebrew Manuscripts after the Invention of Printing,” in Cecil Roth (ed.), Jewish Art: An Illustrated History (Greenwich, CN: New York Graphic Society, 1971), 159.


Haviva Peled-Carmeli, Illustrated Haggadot of the Eighteenth Century (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1983), 32, and ill. nos. 40-41, 50-51, 66, 120.


Menahem Schmelzer, “Decorated Hebrew Manuscripts of the Eighteenth Century in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America,” in Robert Dán (ed.), Occident and Orient: A Tribute to the Memory of Alexander Scheiber (Budapest: Adademiai Kiado, 1988), 331-351, at p. 342.


Ursula and Kurt Schubert, Jüdische Buchkunst, vol. 2 (Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1992), 90-91.


Edward van Voolen, “Nathan ben Simson of Meseritz’s Prayers for the New Moon,” in Adri K. Offenberg, Emile G.L. Schrijver, and F.J. Hoogewoud (eds.), Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana: Treasures of Jewish Booklore (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1994), 68-69.

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