Manuscript on vellum, leaf size 75 x 46 mm., binding size 82 x 58 mm. 24 leaves, numbered , 22 leaves, ; the last leaf blank but lightly ruled on recto. Written in brown ink in a fine square Hebrew script, 12 lines to a page. Title lettered within an architectural frame with a garland of blossoms and filigree leaves. In fine condition. Silver filigree binding, probably late 17th-century, the filigree, of volutes and curling tendrils, over a metal? backing with traces of gilt, both covers decorated with a painted ceramic oval centerpiece and matching heart-shaped corner-pieces, ten semi-precious and glass “jewels” mounted around the centerpiece (upper cover [in relation to the Hebrew text] lacking one cornerpiece and one jewel); the secular paintings showing putti below love-related mottos in Italian; the spine with similar filigree; one (of two) fore-edge clasps, two catches, gilt edges; the text block sewn into pasteboards covered in orange-red silk (visible on turn-ins), attached, apparently with adhesive, to the silver covers; bronze-coated paper pastedown endleaves, plain free endleaves. Condition: the silver somewhat tarnished and darkened, hairline crack through the centerpiece of lower cover. Provenance: purchased from an American estate. *** These silver bindings may date to the last quarter of the seventeenth century, based on their contents. Their place of production has not been conclusively identified. Filigree silverwork is notoriously difficult to localize (“filigree work, whether in silver or gold, is an area in which precise dating and attribution are in general frequently impossible, especially in the period c1500 – 1900” (British Museum, curatorial notes to a silver filigree casket, Waddesdon Bequest 220, online in the BM collections database). Because so many of the bindings cover Offices of the Virgin with Paris imprints, and because their publisher Michel Dauplet is described as a doreur, it is possible that all of the bindings were produced in Paris, perhaps with his involvement. On the other hand, several of those printed prayer books have an Italian connection, and at least some of the bindings may have been produced in Italy. None of the Officii are in French, instead they are in Latin or Italian. Books printed in France were copiously exported to Italy, and of course Turin, and Piedmont, were part of the Duchy of Savoy at that time. One of the bindings is found in Turin, another (at Dartmouth) is on a Venetian Officium (with a Paris connection; see no. 10 in the census).
A near-miniature Hebrew manuscript prayerbook on vellum, containing prayers specifically for women, preserved in a jeweled silver filigree binding with delicate painted plaques, one of a group of similar bindings whose origins remain mysterious.
This diminutive manuscript of women’s prayers was written in Italy; external documentary evidence points to Rome. It belongs to a genre of 18th-century pocket-sized manuscripts containing prayers for women, often given to them by their husbands at the time of their marriage. Some of these manuscripts are generic, mentioning no names. The present manuscript identifies both the recipient and her husband, who may have been the scribe: the title identifies the owner as Perla, wife of A. H. Menasci (or Menasse); Perla’s name reappears in three prayers, where she is identified as the daughter of Consuelo. The manuscript is undated and not localized, but the paleography and text point to Italy, and it can be dated to the mid- to late 18th century.
The text includes the appropriate prayers and blessings for candle lighting on the eve of the Sabbath, a series of supplications to be recited at various points before, during and after ritual immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath), and prayers for the several stages of pregnancy. Women near the end of their terms are encouraged to pray that their child not be born on the Sabbath in order that no one need inadvertently violate the Sabbath on their behalf. Also included are a prayer to be recited before marital relations; a prayer to be recited by a mother upon rising from her bed, that she will be able to nurse her child successfully; and a prayer to be recited by a woman who has merited the birth of a son, on the occasion of the child's circumcision.
The name Abraham Hayyim Menasci is also found in the colophon of a manuscript book of prayers written in Italy, 1790 (Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, MS. 4656 / ENA 1466). The text of that book, Tikkun Hasot (Midnight Rectification), is a Jewish ritual prayer recited each night after midnight as an expression of mourning over the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; the second half of the text comprises verses of praise and longing for the presence of God. In the JTS volume, following the Hebrew colophon, the scribe, Abraham Hayyim Menasci, inscribes a second colophon in Italian and signs his name as Abram Vita Piazza. Similarities in the scribal style of the two manuscripts, including similar paratextual markings, suggest that Abraham Hayyim, the scribe of the 1790 manuscript, may also be the scribe of the present undated manuscript.
References are found to members of the Menasci family living in both Rome and Livorno. Rome, however, seems more likely as the place where this manuscript was created, because Rome had a Jewish ghetto and Livorno did not. Furthermore, a permission was granted by Pope Pius VII in 1814 to Abram Vita Piazza (=Abraham Hayyim Menasci), allowing him and Sabato Alatri to leave the Roman ghetto (exhibited in 16 ottobre 1943, La razzia, Rome, Casina dei Vallati, 19 Sept. 2015-15 Jan. 2017; reproduced in the exhibition catalogue, p. 16). This is another indication that localizes both the JTS Piazza / Menasci manuscript and the present manuscript to Rome.
The style of the title-page, with its decorated pen-and-ink pillared arch, closely resembles the title-page of a similar manuscript, dated 1740 and localizable to Italy, offered at Sothebys New York on 19 December 2007, lot 183. Our manuscript may thus date closer to the mid-18th-century; the name of Abraham Hayyim Menasci may have been handed down from father or grandfather to son or to grandson.
Preliminary unnumbered leaf: Title (as above), within architectural border, verso blank.
Folios 1r-2v: Prayers customarily recited by Jewish women before lighting the Sabbath or Holiday candles
Folios 2v-4r: Prayer customarily recited by Jewish women after lighting the Sabbath or Holiday candles
Folios 4r-6v: Prayer recited before ritual immersion in a mikveh (tevilah). On folio 5r the name Perla the daughter of Consuelo is inserted on bottom line.
Folios 7r-8v: Prayer recited when she arrives at the mikveh to immerse before she removes her clothing
Folios 9r-10v: Prayer recited when she stands in the waters of the mikveh
Folios 10v-11r: Prayer recited when the waters of the mikveh reach her throat and the blessing recited upon immersing in the waters of the mikveh.
Folios 11v-12r: Prayer recited after immersing in the waters of the mikveh.
Folios 12v-13v: Prayer recited in the first 40 days of her pregnancy.
The name Perla the daughter of Consuelo is inserted on folio 12v, ninth line
Folios 13v-16r: Prayer recited at the beginning of the ninth month of pregnancy, to be recited daily. The reader is enjoined that it is worthy to undertake a day of fasting and to give charity as she is able – and if she wishes to begin this in the seventh month, which is even better as women sometimes give birth by the seventh month. The name Perla the daughter of Consuelo is inserted on folio 14r, sixth line.
Folios 16r- 18r: Prayer recited when she has a son, at the time she brings him to be circumcised
Folio 18r-v: Prayer of thanksgiving to God recited after giving birth to a boy or girl
Folio 19r-v: Prayer recited upon rising from her bed (requesting that she be able to nurse the child successfully)
Folios 19v-21r: Prayer requesting God to protect her from all harm
Folios 21r-22v: Prayer recited before marital relations
The delightful silver filigree binding covering this manuscript probably pre-dates it. This is not a case of deception or of sophistication: silver bindings were often used and re-used (as case bindings) to cover books considered precious; these were often religious books. The painted ceramic plaques of our binding depict putti and bear secular mottos in Italian, all related to love. The central cartouches read “Leale e secreto” and “verso il mio sole” and the heart-shaped corner-pieces “Chiero [i.e., chiaro] et puro,” “amore non ha timore,” “amare sopra tutto,” “bon la trovar --,” “Duo son uno,” “Invidia c’ombre [i.e., è ombra?] d’amor[e],” and again “verso il mio sole.” That such love mottos were considered appropriate to cover a prayerbook may contradict some modern ideas of religiosity, but the (probably newlywed) husband who gave this little gift to his wife no doubt considered the binding a perfect cover for his token of love.
We have located eleven other analogous small silver bindings with similar painted ceramic center- and cornerpiece plaques (occasionally referred to as enamels) and arrays of inset “jewels,” of colored glass or semi-precious stones. One is also on a Hebrew manuscript, containing Hebrew prayers, on paper, comprising blessings recited at the wedding feast, liturgical hymns recited in honor of the bride and groom, prayers recited at the meal following a circumcision and prayers and liturgical hymns recited at the circumcision ceremony. That manuscript (in a private collection) is similarly ascribed to Italy, and dated to the first half of the 18th century. The plaques of that binding also contain secular love mottos, but they are in French rather than Italian. (This information kindly shared by Sharon Mintz, private communication). Eight of the other bindings are on editions of the Office of the Virgin, in either Latin or Italian. All but one of these were printed in Paris in the 1670s and 1681; the outlier was printed in Venice in 1693. Of the Paris imprints, five bear the imprint of Michel Dauplet, bookseller, colporteur (a seller or peddler of religious books) and doreur (indicating his involvement with bookbinding), and the editions are dated 1673; and two were published by the Paris bookseller Claude II Herissant, in 1676 and 1681. One further binding is empty, and another is on an irrelevant 20th-century manuscript, in a private collection (S. Mintz, private communication).
These twelve bindings are of two different types: nine, including this one, are worked in a filigree style, with swirling filigree volutes, and three are in a floral ajouré or openwork design with stems, leaves and blossoms. All but one of the bindings are miniature. Only on the two Jewish manuscripts and the empty binding (belonging to Patricia Pistner) are the plaques painted with secular motifs and mottos: all the rest show religious scenes or figures, with no inscriptions. (Ours is the only example with the captions in Italian.)
Census of the bindings:
This census expands on the list of bindings provided by Jan Storm van Leeuwen in A Matter of Size: Miniature bindings and texts from the collection of Patricia J. Pistner (NY: Grolier Club, 2019), no. 123, and on a more detailed list shared privately by Prof. Storm van Leeuwen, whom we thank.
TYPE I, FILIGREE. Most of the bindings of this type measure approximately 82 x 55 mm. [except as noted].
A) With filigree and the heart-shaped corner-pieces with the points turned outwards:
1) The present example: the plaques with secular putti and love mottos in Italian; 20 multicolored “jewels”.
2) Private collection: the plaques with secular putti and love mottos in French; multicolored jewels. Bronze-coated paper pastedown endleaves, Dutch-gilt free endleaves. On: A manuscript, on paper, of Hebrew prayers, comprising blessings recited at the wedding feast, liturgical hymns recited in honor of the bride and groom, prayers recited at the meal following a circumcision, and prayers and liturgical hymns recited at the circumcision ceremony. No date. Sharon Mintz ascribes to Italy, first half of the 18th century.
3) Private collection: the plaques with secular putti and love mottos in French; purple “amethysts” only. On: a 20th-century “erotic” manuscript in French.
B) With filigree and hearts with the points turned inwards:
4) Trade: Emil Offenbacher – Cornelius Hauck (sale, Christie’s 27 June 2006, lot 226) – Heribert Tenschert (Catalogue 84, 2019): The plaques with religious scenes, no inscriptions, purple “amethysts” only. On: Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Michel Dauplet, “1573” [i.e, 1673, either a cataloguer’s mistake or a misprint in the title taken at face value by both the Christie’s and Tenschert cataloguers].
5) New York, Morgan library: PML 252402 (Julia Wightman collection): The plaques with religious scenes, multicolored jewels. 19th-century marbled endpapers. On: Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Michel Dauplet, 1673.
6) New York, Grolier Club: The plaques with religious scenes, purple stones (amethysts?) only. On: Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Michel Dauplet, 1673. See Fletcher, Judging a Book by its Cover, 3.13.
7) Turin, Museo d’arte antico, 236/LE, acquired in 1905, from the Gabinetto del Sindaco: The plaques with religious scenes, purple or dark-colored jewels only. On: Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Michel Dauplet, 1673. Cf. Malaguzzi, no. 92; and Mallé, Smalti - Avori, pp. 113-114.
8) Trade: Paris, Aguttes, May 17, 2022, lot 245: The plaques with religious figures in yellow on bright blue ground, 20 dark blue jewels only, on Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Claude Herissant, 1676. These ceramic plaques are of a different palette and style from the others; apparently from the same atelier as those of the Dartmouth example, no. 10 below.
9) Trade, Shapero, Catalogue 2007, no 72: The plaques with religious figures. Larger example, apparently 114 x 58 mm., on Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis, Paris: Michel “Dupplet” [Dauplet], “1672” (an error? OCLC lists only 1651 and 1673 Dauplet editions). The Shapero cataloguers took this for a 19th-century binding.
TYPE II: OPENWORK SILVER, WITH BRANCHES CONNECTING FLOWERS AND BUDS. These bindings are a bit larger, approx. 90/93 x 53 mm.
10) New Hampshire, Dartmouth College: the hearts with the points facing outwards, the plaques with religious figures in blue on a bright yellow ground, 20 purple “jewels”. On: Officivm B. Mariae virgin Pii V. Pont. Max. jussu editum et ab Vrbano VIII recognitum. PARISIIS, si vende al inseg. della Ragione Venet., (colophon) Venice: Sumptibus Jacobi Bertani, 1693. Stylistically the plaques resemble no. 8 above.
This binding, then with Henry Sotheran Ltd., was pictured in the Newsletter of the Lxivmos 20, Aug-Sept. 1929, p. 3.
11) Trade: Major J. R. Abbey (sale, Sotheby’s May 10 1985, lot 8) – Daniela Kromp, catalogue : the hearts with the points facing outwards, the plaques also with bright yellow ground, sixteen multicolored “jewels”. On: L'offitio della chiesa. In cui è contenuto l'Offitio della santa Vergine per tutto l'anno, Paris, Glaudio [sic] Herissant, 1681.
12) Pistner collection: the only one to belong to this floral type to have secular plaques with putti and love mottos in French (some are exact translations of the Italian mottos on our binding), the points facing outwards, 20 multi-colored jewels. An empty binding. A Matter of Size, 123.
References: For further information on this genre of Hebrew women’s prayers, see Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, Out of the Depths I Call to You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman (Northvale, N.J.: Aronson, 1992), and Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).
On the binding, see A Matter of Size, no. 123; F. Malaguzzi, Collezioni del Museo civico d'arte antica di Torino: legature (Turin, 2011), no. 92; Luigi Mallé, Smalti - Avori del Museo d’Arte Antico (Turin, 1969), pp. 113-114; G. Fletcher, Judging a Book by its Cover: Bookbindings in the Collections of the Grolier Club (NY, 2023), no. 3.13.
Grateful thanks to Dr. Sharon Mintz for her research and cataloguing of the manuscript, and for sharing information about the bindings in the two private collections. We also are indebted to Dr. Jan Storm van Leeuwen for generously sharing his notes on these bindings, as well as to Patricia Pistner, George Fletcher, Jamie Cumby, Jay Satterfield, and María Isabel Molestina for their help, including many photos, in identifying some of the other bindings.
These silver bindings may date to the last quarter of the seventeenth century, based on their contents. Their place of production has not been conclusively identified. Filigree silverwork is notoriously difficult to localize (“filigree work, whether in silver or gold, is an area in which precise dating and attribution are in general frequently impossible, especially in the period c1500 – 1900” (British Museum, curatorial notes to a silver filigree casket, Waddesdon Bequest 220, online in the BM collections database). Because so many of the bindings cover Offices of the Virgin with Paris imprints, and because their publisher Michel Dauplet is described as a doreur, it is possible that all of the bindings were produced in Paris, perhaps with his involvement. On the other hand, several of those printed prayer books have an Italian connection, and at least some of the bindings may have been produced in Italy. None of the Officii are in French, instead they are in Latin or Italian. Books printed in France were copiously exported to Italy, and of course Turin, and Piedmont, were part of the Duchy of Savoy at that time. One of the bindings is found in Turin, another (at Dartmouth) is on a Venetian Officium (with a Paris connection; see no. 10 in the census).
Status: On Hold