Israeli library buys up Valmadonna collection


The National Library of Israel has announced the acquisition of the Valmadonna Trust Library, securing a bonanza of Hebrew books and manuscripts for its collection.

The purchase includes some of the earliest Hebrew printed books, among them an incunabula of the Pentateuch, printed in Lisbon in 1491 and a velum Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556.

The Valmadonna Trust Library, widely regarded as the finest private collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world, was assembled by Jack Lunzer, who spent more than six decades assembling it.

The vast collection charts the spread of Hebrew printing around the world and includes 550 broadsheets and newspapers dating back as far as the 16th century.

Hailing the purchase, Oren Weinberg, director of the National Library of Israel said: “The Valmadonna Trust Library represents an historic addition to our leading collection of Jewish manuscripts, prints and books, which reflect and embody the cultures of the Jewish people around the world and across the ages."

Mr Lunzer, who died last month at the age of 92, was born in Antwerp and made his fortune as a young man in the diamond industry in London. He named his collection after the town of Valmadonna in northern Italy, where he and his wife Ruth Zippel, had connections.  In 2015 Mr Lunzer sold his 16th century Babylonian Talmud, made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg, for US$9.3 million (£7.5 million).

The National Library of Israel is engaged in a major expansion programme, which includes the construction of a landmark building in Jerusalem, designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron. Highlights of the Valmadonna Library will go on show at the new building, which will be located next to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and is due to open in 2020.

The NLI has not disclosed the sum it paid for the collection. However, the Valmadonna Library previously went on sale at Sotheby’s in New York in 2009, when it failed to attract the asking price of around US$40 million (£32 million). This time Sotheby’s negotiated a private sale.


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