This Medieval Manuscript is Getting A Facelift

The MFAH received a grant to restore an ancient Hebrew prayer book.

By Amarie Gipson March 16, 2022

The MFAH Houston is the first 2022 recipient of the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund and will use the grant to preserve the Montefiore Mainz Mahzor, a 700-year-old Hebrew prayer book that originated in Medieval Germany. 

Did you know that Houston is home to some of the world’s most precious cultural artifacts? Ancient sculptures, early daguerreotypes and hundreds of other rare gems live inside the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s collection.

Founded in 1900 and operating as the oldest encyclopedic art institution in Texas, the MFAH has built a collection of nearly 70,000 objects that span pre-history to the present day. Preserving these precious works demands the skill and commitment of gifted conservators and financial support. Just this March, the MFAH was awarded a $27,000 grant to support the restoration of the Montefiore Mainz Mahzor, a 700-year-old Hebrew prayer book that originated in Medieval Germany. 

Since its acquisition in 2018, the Mahzor has lived in the Medieval galleries and is celebrated as the first Jewish ceremonial object to enter the Museum’s collection. The worn pages of the nearly 300-page codex are filled with both text and lively, painted illustrations of human figures and distorted creatures. 

“This extraordinary manuscript is one of a very few surviving examples from Medieval Germany, and is all the more remarkable because it was actively used by congregants for centuries,” said Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in a statement. 

Detail image of the Montefiore Mainz Mahzor courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The restoration project is scheduled to commence this fall, supported by The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) Museum Restoration Fund. The funding will allow conservators to embark on a thorough and ethical process.

Despite several cuts and redacted pages, the Mahzor’s remarkable survival is symbolic of Jewish resilience, and the MFAH’s brilliant team of conservators are helping preserve it for decades to come. 

From May 6-10, the Mahzor will be on view at TEFAF New York but will return to the galleries for public viewing sometime after its restoration. 

For more information on the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund and the Mahzor, visit here.

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