The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston opens the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica
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The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston opens the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica
German, The Montefiore Mainz Mahzor, c. 1310–20, illuminated manuscript on parchment; codex of 299 leaves, each ruled in ink, pricked, and written in black and red ink in Ashkenazi script, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund. Restoration supported with generous contributions from the TEFAF Museum Restoration fund; Joan Morgenstern; and Helaine and David Lane and Family.

HOUSTON, TX.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, opened a new gallery for Judaica on December 3, 2023. The new space, which has been endowed by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, allows for a permanent presence at the Museum of works of art made for Jewish communities around the world to fulfill the practice of their faith. More than two dozen objects are displayed in the inaugural installation of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery, primarily from a group of recent acquisitions that have launched this new collecting initiative.

The installation in the Herzstein Gallery benefits from a partnership with the Jewish Museum, New York, that has paired significant loans to the MFAH with scholarly collaborations. That partnership launched in summer 2022 with the exhibition Beauty and Ritual: Judaica from the Jewish Museum, New York; some objects lent from the collection of the Jewish Museum are on view in the Herzstein Gallery. The gallery is also an important component of the World Faiths Initiative at the MFAH, which seeks to bring attention to the central role of religion and faith in the creation of many of the works of art in the Museum’s collections and exhibitions. It is funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

“With the opening of the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica, we will complete the suite of galleries in the Caroline Wiess Law Building that have been developed over the past 15 years to reflect the diversity of Houston’s communities,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director, Margaret Alkek Williams Chair, of the MFAH. “The galleries adjacent to the Herzstein Gallery are devoted to the arts of Korea, Japan, India, China, and the Islamic worlds. With the Judaica gallery, our goal is to provide our visitors an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of ritual objects made for Jewish homes and synagogues, and to marvel at both the continuity and the variety of these essential objects created over millennia for communities dispersed across the globe.”

The Herzstein Gallery features an outstanding collection of historical Judaica recently acquired by the Museum. Significant works on view include a rare 5th-century late-Roman oil lamp; an especially precious 14th-century illustrated Mahzor, a community holiday prayer book created in Mainz, Germany; an early-19th- century silver and gold Torah Shield produced in Munich; a silver Torah Crown made in Venice; a jeweled silver Torah Crown made in Poland; and a variety of silver Torah Finials made in Central Asia, Holland, England, and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries, in addition to objects from Turkey and North Africa.

While the MFAH has a history of presenting temporary exhibitions of Judaica, there are currently no permanent spaces reserved for its display. The new gallery situates the MFAH within a small group of encyclopedic art museums in North America that have made a commitment to collect, display, and study Judaica, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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