Sale 16160
Script and Illumination: Featuring the Karl and Elizabeth Katz Collection
Online 5 - 12 December 2017

Karl Katz (1929-2017)

Asked by The New York Times how he would define Art, Karl replied, ‘If it's not visual and it’s not visceral and it’s not communicative, it’s not a work of art’ -- and responding and communicating about art were the determining features of Karl's entire working life. The title of his autobiography, ‘’The Exhibitionist: Living Museums Loving Museums’ says it all. He was not only instrumental in the foundation of new museums, starting with The Israel Museum, but also introduced new directions for established ones. It was during Karl’s tenure at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as Chairman for Exhibitions and Loans and then Chairman for Special Projects that its ground-breaking program of major exhibitions was firmly established. He masterminded the launch of many blockbuster shows that both raised awareness and visitor numbers of the Met and brought iconic treasures from museums world-wide to the US. His resourceful and determined negotiations to secure such loans sometimes had a colourful impact on his personal life: he secured the Book of Kells for Irish Art under threat of damnation from the Archbishop of Dublin; negotiations with the Greek government for the Art of the Aegean led to Karl's enduring friendship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; and borrowing from the British Museum for Viking Art led to taking tea with Her Majesty the Queen.

Recognising the role that other visual media could play in spreading an understanding of visual art and culture, Karl founded the Met’s Office of Film and Photography, and this role was continued by MUSE Film and Photography, the nonprofit he founded in 1991 where he continued as Executive Director. It is characteristic of his openness to new developments that he and his wife Elizabeth chose an online-only auction as the way to bring their collection to the market.

The manuscript illuminations offered in Script and Illumination are the art works that Karl and Elizabeth were surrounded by: the immediacy and intimacy of these small paintings making them perfect living companions. The breadth of interest shown in Karl’s working life – involvement with museums as disparate as the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora and the P.T. Barnum Museum and, in MUSE’s films, from The Book of Kells to Ai Wei Wei – is also evident in the Katz collection. The paintings date from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, were made in Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe and come from Christian, Islamic and Hindu cultures. In subject they range from the Lives of the Saints, Loves of the Gods, Arthurian Romance, Portraiture, Science and Natural History. Great names of medieval illumination – for example Niccolo di Giacomo da Bologna and Girolamo dai Libri – figure alongside unidentified artists, the feature that unites the works is the quality or charm of their execution. The collection was put together over several decades and now, through its dispersal by auction, other collectors have the chance to experience the pleasure and satisfaction that these pieces have brought to Karl and Elizabeth.

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