Miniature Machzor – With Illustrated Passover Haggadah – Elaborate Miniature on a Single Sheet of Parchment Cut into Roundels – Rare and Unique Hebrew Manuscript – Italy, 15th/16th Century

Opening: $300,000
Estimate: $350,000 - $450,000
Sold for: $425,000
Including buyer's premium

Manuscript, machzor comprising the Amidah prayers for Rosh Chodesh, the three festivals and High Holidays, selected piyyutim for these days and the Passover Haggadah, according to Italian rite. Illustrated miniature manuscript on a single sheet of parchment cut into roundels. [Italy, late 15th or early 16th century].
Miniature manuscript, Italian semi-cursive script on both sides of a sheet of parchment cut into roundels. The roundels are arranged in seven rows of seven roundels each; diameter of each roundel approx. 5.5 cm; altogether 49 conjoined roundels (98 written "pages").
This unique format allows for dynamic use of the manuscript, enabling the reader to fold the various roundels into different configurations in order to expose the appropriate prayer segments. Upon completion of the prayers, the entire manuscript can be folded to the diameter of a single roundel, and be easily stored and carried. Due to its limited size, the manuscript does not include the full prayer texts, rather an abridged version comprising selected sections (the Haggadah appears in full).
Ornamental initial word panels with foliate designs – delicate leaves and branches in green, pink and burgundy. The illustrations include an angel blowing a shofar next to a trumpet bearing figure (at the beginning of the Kol Nidrei prayer), the four sons from the Passover Haggadah, Rabban Gamliel, other figures in contemporary dress (a figure holding a wine goblet near the blessing over the second cup, figures wielding matzah and maror, and more), and animals (leopard, rabbit, and more). Although generally the artist confined his illustrations to the individual roundels, he occasionally overstepped the boundaries of the design. The wicked son is shown in the roundel above that containing the simple son and appears to be stepping down through the two spaces, his sword poised, as the simple son, cowering below, looks up to him. In other depictions, the figures are placed halfway between two roundels, the fold between the two units occurring at the waist of the figure.
There are only a few Christian and Muslim manuscripts that bear some similarity to this manuscript; the best-known of them is the Codex Rotundus, a "book of hours" (Christian devotional) manuscript scribed and illuminated in Bruges during the 15th century, known as the Rotundus due to its circular shape. Likewise, several manuscripts of the Quran cut into miniature octagons were produced in Iran and Turkey in the 16th and 17th centuries (though written on paper rather than on parchment).
None of these manuscripts, however, include the most striking and unique features of the manuscript offered here – namely, its miniature dimensions, it being written on a single sheet of parchment that can be folded to pocket size, and it being written in Hebrew. These three features make this manuscript an extremely rare and exceptionally unique item.
There are only two known Hebrew equivalents of the present manuscript:
1. In April 2018, a similar manuscript from the 15th century, without illustrations, was sold in Kedem; comprised of 76 roundels and containing the year-round machzor – High Holidays, three festivals and Rosh Chodesh (lacking title page roundel). See Kedem Auction 61, item 3.
2. A similar manuscript is held in the Skirball museum, Los Angeles (the Sally Kirschstein collection). It comprises 64 roundels – written on one side only, with the Passover Haggadah, and features only two illustrations – matzah and maror.
Another item which must be mentioned in this context (despite the obvious differences) is a small medal-shaped box holding 19 hand-colored conjoined roundels (4.2 cm in diameter) showing scenes from the life of Joseph Siskind Oppenheimer ("Jew Süss"), printed in Württemberg in 1738.
See Hebrew description for a list of the piyyutim included in this manuscript
[98] pages. Parchment sheet: approx. 40X40 cm. Diameter of roundels: approx. 5.5 cm. Overall good condition. Minor damage and tears. Stains (dark stains to some roundels). Ink and paint faded in some places. Placed in silver case.
1. Private collection.
2. Private collection (since 1984). Acquired by the present owner at Sotheby's NY, February 1 1984.

This item will be available for viewing at University Archives, Wilton, Connecticut, by appointment through Kedem

Illustrated Manuscripts, Manuscripts on Parchment
Illustrated Manuscripts, Manuscripts on Parchment