Kestenbaum & Company – a NYC-based auction house specializing in Antique Judaica: Rare Books, Manuscripts, Autographed Letters, Ceremonial Objects and Fine Art – on March 12th sold an important piece of art that comes with a fascinating and historically-important back-story.
The portrait, of the Tosafos Yom Tov, sold for $147,600.
Here is the info on the painting:
LOT: 318 YOM TOV LIPMANN HELLER, (THE “TOSFOS YOM TOV.”) Portrait: Imprisoned in Vienna. Oil on canvas. Signed, inscribed and dated by the artist: “Paul Krüger nach Hoogstraten, 1887.”41.5 x 32.25 inches. Very finely framed.
1887: $12,000 – $18,000
-THE CELEBRATED PORTRAIT OF THE TOSFOS YOM TOV.
This 19th-century painting by Paul Krüger is based upon the canvas executed by Samuel van Hoogstraten and entitled: “Old Man in Window” (1653). It currently resides in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Born in Wallerstein, Bavaria in 1578, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller is more commonly known as the ‘Tosfos Yom Tov’ after his major commentary to the Mishnah. In his youth he studied in Prague with both Rabbi Yehudah Loewe (the Maharal) and Rabbi Ephraim Luntschytz (the Kli Yakar) and already at aged 19 he was asked to sit on the Maharal’s Judicial Court. By 1627 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague.
As a result of the ongoing Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), the Jews of Bohemia were heavily taxed. As Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Heller decided that the wealthier members of the Jewish community should shoulder a larger share of the financial burden. Unappreciative of Rabbi Heller’s partisan economics, certain wealthy Jews joined forces with government and Church officials to punish him. In the summer of 1629, the rabbi was arrested by the Imperial Court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II, and charged with insulting Christianity in his rabbinic works Ma’adanei Melech and Lechem Chamudoth. After much lobbying on the rabbi’s behalf by various political and communal leaders in both Prague and Vienna, the Emperor commuted the sentence to forty days imprisonment in Vienna, along with a heavy fine. Furthermore, Rabbi Heller was forced to relinquish his rabbinical position in Prague. A description of the entire ordeal is told in his work “Megilath Eivah” in which the Tosfos Yom Tov established an annual celebration on the day he won back his freedom, which centuries later, his numerous descendants still commemorate.
A painter of the Golden Age, the original composer of this painting Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten (1627-78) was a student of Rembrandt. Clearly channeling the Dutch master portraitist’s style, he painted Rabbi Heller in 1653 and entitled it ‘Old Man in a Window.’
The present version of the painting, which faithfully emulates that by van Hoogstraten, depicts a folorn Rabbi Heller with just his head appearing through the bars of his prison window. Although it is not known if van Hoogstraten ever met or saw the Tosfos Yom Tov, it is likely that he was aware of the Rembrandt (School) painting of 1643 entitled ‘Portrait of an Old Jew’ (today in the National Gallery of Denmark) – where a similar, bearded Jewish man, with head cocked, looks emotively at the viewer.
The image appears on front cover of: Chaim Uri Lipschitz, The Feast and the Fast: The Dramatic Personal Story of Yom Tov Lipman Heller (New York, 1984).