L.A. Mayer



Location: The Museum for Islamic Art
Arranged & described by: Ofer Pogorelsky
Further information: Finding Aid


Leo Aryeh Mayer (1895–1959; sometimes Leon Ary, known as L. A. Mayer) was a prominent scholar of Islamic art and archaeology in Palestine/Israel, and one of the founding fathers of the School of Oriental Studies (est. 1926) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in Stanislau, Austria-Hungary (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), Mayer graduated from the gymnasium in his hometown, consequently starting his studies at the University of Vienna, where he also submitted his PhD on town planning in Muslim cities. Simultaneously, he studied in the rabbinical seminary of Vienna. After World War I, Mayer moved to Berlin and became an assistant at the Oriental Department of the Prussian State Library. Growing up in a Zionist home, in 1921 Mayer decided to immigrate to Palestine, where he was appointed inspector and later librarian at the Department of Antiquities for the Government of Palestine under the British Mandate. When the Hebrew University was opened in 1925, Mayer a lecturer for Islamic art and archaeology, joining the School of Oriental Studies (SOS) a year later, receiving his professorship in 1933. He was the director of the SOS from 1934 until 1948, also serving as the Rector of the Hebrew University in the years 1943-45. Mayer wrote pioneering studies on Islamic coins, Arabic epigraphy, Mamluk heraldry and dress and craftsmanship in Islam.

Following Mayer’s death in 1959, his friend and benefactor, the philanthropist Vera Bryce Salomons, established in 1974 the L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem, whose initial collection was based on Mayer’s personal collection and items donated by Salomons. Although the exact circumstances are not clear, since in his will Mayer asked for his personal and professional papers to be destroyed, a large suitcase with Mayer’s papers survived and was located in 2017 in one of the storage rooms of the museum. Some of the papers were scattered, others were very partly sorted thematically.

The Mayer archive includes four series:

Series 1: Manuscripts and publication related material (9 files). This series contains manuscripts and draft from various stages of some of Mayer’s works; and some correspondence related to the publication of these works.

Series 2: Research notes (31 files). This series contains Mayer’s research notes on the various topics he was interested in, as well as photos, photocopies and hand copies of artifacts, inscriptions and Arabic and Persian manuscripts; as well as correspondence, mainly with museums and libraries, related to the research topics.

Series 3: Correspondence (3 files). This series contains Mayer’s private and professional correspondence mainly with his two close friends, his backer Vera Bryce-Salomons and his colleague and former teacher Harry Torczyner/Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai.

Series 4: Personal and biographical materials (8 files). This series various documents from different stages in Mayer’s life, including his diplomas and travel documents, official letters from the different workplaces, and his will, and some photos of him. The series also includes writings and letters by his mother, the writer Rachel Mayer.