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Mishneh Torah
by Master of the Barbo Missal
ca. 1457
Jointly owned by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013. Purchased for the Israel Museum through the generosity of an anonymous donor; René and Susanne Braginsky, Zurich; Renée and Lester Crown, Chicago; Schusterman Foundation, Israel; and Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York. Purchased for The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Director’s Funds and Judy and Michael Steinhardt Gift
Episode 3 / 2014
First Look

...The Met takes a major step
in presenting masterpieces
of Judaica..."

Although The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's great encyclopedic museums, its collection has been sadly lacking in works of Jewish artistic culture. Such works from the premodern era rarely survive, and many of the greatest examples are the pride of collections formed centuries ago. With the acquisition of this extraordinary illuminated Hebrew manuscript, jointly purchased with the Israel Museum, the Met takes a major step in presenting masterpieces of Judaica.

The Mishneh Torah is the most renowned work of the celebrated medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135–1204). The text long served as the authoritative code of Jewish law; even now, it remains a living document, consulted by rabbis and scholars. Law books do not traditionally benefit from lavish illustration; this, however, is an absolutely sumptuous book.

The artist, having no precedent to guide him in the illustration of such learned discourse, looked to the world around him. Men and women in typical Renaissance attire appear within a lush, flower-strewn landscape, against an ornately patterned cerulean sky. Just as Maimonides' text addresses legal matters both sublime and mundane, so, too, do the illustrations. One page vividly presents animal sacrifice before the Temple of Jerusalem, while another shows horse trading, a third a burglary in progress.

The artist responsible for the paintings worked in the highest circles of patronage in Italy, decorating Bibles and liturgical books for dukes and cardinals—even a cousin of the pope—known for their discerning taste and lavish expenditures. This is the only surviving example of this master's work for a non-Christian patron. As such, it marvelously evokes the overlapping worlds of Christians and Jews in fifteenth-century Italy and demonstrates how an artist schooled in one religious tradition turned his skills, and sharpened his creativity, while working for another.

Barbara Drake Boehm
Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
Melanie Holcomb
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters
Made possible by Bloomberg

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