Mayer Museum of Islamic Art
Posted by Avital Pinnick on January 16, 2012
Last Friday we braved a heavy downpour to visit the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art on Rehov haPalmach in Jerusalem. If you’ve never been, or you visited a long time ago (perhaps when the stolen watches hadn’t yet been recovered!), this small museum is worth a visit. I was interested in the exhibit of Naftali Hilger’s photographs, “Travels to Yemen: 1987-2008.” You can see some of the photographs in these videos (some of the photos in these videos are not part of the exhibit). The exhibit hall is below the main entrance floor. Slide shows and videos of Yemenite life play continuously on the double screen in the middle of the room.
After looking at the photographs we wandered up to the watch and clock exhibit (photography isn’t permitted in the museum, so I took these shots from my hip). The Sir David Salomons Watch and Clock Collection is exquisite, with many examples by Breguet. There are clocks embedded in tiny, mechanical music boxes covered with jewels, with tiny birds that pop up, watches built into jeweled fans and rings, carriage clocks, and the famous Marie Antoinette watch, encased in rock crystal, which took 30 years to create and was finished some years after the queen’s execution. Videos (some in English) accompany the exhibit.
The story of the burglary appears on Wikipedia:
In 1980, British master horologist George Daniels (widely regarded as the most important watchmaker since Breguet) catalogued the Salomons collection and published a study on it. Three years later, on the night of 15 April 1983, the Mayer Institute was burgled and 106 rare timepieces were stolen, including the entire Salomons collection. The multi-million-dollar theft was Israel’s largest-ever robbery – by this time, the “Marie Antoinette” alone was valued at neatly US$20 million. The case remained unsolved until 2006 when a Tel Aviv watchmaker tipped off Israeli police that he had paid US$40,000 to an anonymous person to purchase 40 timepieces, including the missing “Marie Antoinette”. Forensic experts examined the timepieces they recovered and detectives questioned the lawyer who negotiated the sale; their investigation led police to an Israeli woman living in Los Angeles, Nili Shamrat, whom they identified as the widow of Naaman Diller, the notorious Israeli criminal who carried out the burglary and then fled to Europe, before settling in the United States. When Israeli police and American officials arrived at Shamrat’s home to question her, they found more timepieces and 66 of the stolen Mayer Institute timepieces were eventually recovered.
One point that the Wikipedia article doesn’t mention is that forty-three clocks showed up in France.
The museum’s permanent collection, on the ground floor and the first floor, is dedicated to different periods of Islamic art. It’s an extensive (considering the size of the museum), well-rounded collection of textiles, pottery, jewelry, clothing, and weapons.
The museum is open daily, although the hours are somewhat limited. Check the web site for hours and admission prices (currently, 40 NIS/adult, 20 NIS/child). Like the Castell Museum, this is a small, specialized museum that you probably won’t want to visit every month but you should see it at least once.