Shalom Sabar, "Seder Birkat ha-Mazon, Vienna, 1719/20: The Earliest Known Illuminated Hebrew Manuscript by Aaron Wolf Schreiber of Gewitsch" [Hebrew], in Shmuel Glick, ed., Zekher Devar le-'Avdekha (Bar Ilan: 2007);
Vivian B. Mann & Richard Cohen, eds. From Court Jews to the Rothschilds. Art, patronage, and power 1600-1800 (New York:1996), p. 175;
Leonard Singer Gold, ed. A Sign and a Witness: 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts, (New York/Oxford, 1988), #31, illustrated: p. 169;
Benjamin Richler, The Hebrew Manuscripts in the Valmadonna Trust Library (Jerusalem, 1998), no. 117, p. 72, pl. 10.
Beginning in Vienna, then spreading to Bohemia and Moravia, and from there to elsewhere in Western Europe, skilled Jewish scribe-artists were commissioned to create these luxurious small books on behalf of wealthy clients. Many of these patrons functioned as Court Jews, providing service to the rulers of the numerous political entities of eighteenth-century Central Europe. Although the scribe has not signed this book, scholars have identified this manuscript as the work of Ze'ev Wolf Herlingen, one of the foremost scribe-artists of the period. Herlingen was active from 1720 to 1752, primarily in Vienna. In 1736, one year before this manuscript was completed, Herlingen was appointed scribe to the Imperial Library in Vienna. More than forty manuscripts signed by Herlingen are extant and approximately a dozen more are attributed to him. These include miniature prayerbooks, circumcision books, and Esther scrolls, as well as several Haggadot. This exquisite manuscript comprising a variety of occasional blessings and prayers is one of Herlingen's finest efforts. His consummate skill is evidenced equally in the superbly written letters of the text and in the finely drawn illustrations.
The complete text of the title page begins with a Hebrew description of the contents: ke-Minhag Sefardim, Seder Birkat ha-Mazon im Birkhot ha-Nehenin ve-Tikun Keriat Shema 'al ha-Mita (According to the Rite of the Sephardim, the Order of Grace after Meals and Occasional Blessings and the Order of Reciting the Shema before Retiring). This is followed by the same text rendered in Italian and concludes with the date: L'Orationi, che usano li Portogesi Hebrei al tempo di Pranso è alla cena, Comè pure l'Orationi avani d'andar dormire, com ancho alter ut utili preghirere per la Benedizione divina (1737.[)]
This title page, with its text in Hebrew and Italian, allows us to conclude that the volume was created for an important member of the Sephardic community of Portuguese Jews residing in Vienna. Evidence of the artistic patronage of these wealthy Portuguese members of the Viennese community already exists from another beautifully decorated liturgical Hebrew manuscript that was written for Baron Diego d'Aguilar in 1742 (Jewish Museum London C 1985.7.1). D'Aguilar also commissioned a set of silver Torah finials for use in the Sephardi synagogue of Vienna and it may be reasonably presumed that he was the original owner of this manuscript as well. D'Aguilar, a founding member of the Sephardic community in Vienna, was also known as Moses Lopez Pereira, (1699-1759). He fled Portugal in the early eighteenth century and arrived in Vienna, by way of London, in 1725. Acquiring the rights to the state tobacco monopoly, d'Aguilar's successful business instincts afforded him the opportunity to amass a substantial fortune; he was ennobled by Emperor Charles VI in gratitude for his achievements and awarded the title of Baron d'Aguilar. The use of Italian on the title page may be explained by that fact that Italian was d'Aguilar's preferred language while he was living in Vienna. His first proposal for a tobacco monopoly in 1725 was formulated in Italian. He would later be appointed by Empress Maria Theresa to the highly important post of Privy Councilor; among d'Aguilar's responsibilities was the overseeing of Habsburg interests in Italy.
1. Judith grasping the head of Holofernes and brandishing her sword in her right hand; Illustration for the text inserted in the Birkat Ha-Mazon on the holiday of Hanukkah (f. 3r)
2. The hanging of Haman's ten sons; Illustration for the text inserted in the Birkat Ha-Mazon on the holiday of Purim (f. 4v)
3. Image of the Temple; Illustration for the blessing "Who in His mercy [re]builds Jerusalem" (f. 6v)
4. Plate of gourds and other vegetables; Illustration for the blessing recited before eating vegetables (f. 10v)
5. A stand of four fruit trees; Illustration for the various blessings recited before eating fruit, or upon smelling fragrant fruit (f. 11r)
6. Pastoral landscape viewed from a terrace; Illustration for the blessing recited upon smelling fragrant plants and herbs (f. 11v)
7. An apothecary's shop; Illustration for the blessing recited upon smelling fragrant spices and oils (f. 12r)
8. Landscape with rainbow; Illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing a rainbow (f. 12v)
9. A King, flanked by four courtiers and two men-at-arms; Illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing royalty (f. 13r)
10. A dwarf couple standing beside a tall African native; Illustration for the blessing recited "in praise of God who created mankind in many forms" (f. 13v)
11. Cityscape in the midst of a storm; Illustration for the various blessings recited upon seeing lightening or hearing thunder (f. 14r)
12. A seascape, featuring sailing vessels; Illustration for the blessing recited upon seeing an Ocean (f. 14v)
13. Woman at her bedstead reciting the Shema prayer before retiring (f. 15r)
14. King Solomon asleep in his bed surrounded by his armed retinue (cf. Song of Songs 3:7-8); Illustration for prayers recited before retiring (f. 19r)
Sotheby's would like to thank Dr. Michael K. Silber, Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University, Jerusalem for providing information which assisted in the cataloging of this manuscript.
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