The L.A. Mayer Institute for Islamic Art (Hebrew ?. ?. ? , Arabic ?. ?. ? ? ) is a museum in Jerusalem, established in 1974. It is located in Katamon, down the road from the Jerusalem Theater. The museum houses Islamic pottery, textiles, jewelry, ceremonial objects and other Islamic cultural artifacts. It is not to be confused with the Islamic Museum, Jerusalem.
The museum was founded by Vera Bryce Salomons, daughter of Sir David Lionel Salomons, in memory of her professor, Leo Aryeh Mayer, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a scholar of Islamic art who died in 1959. It has nine galleries organized in chronological order, exploring the beliefs and art of Islamic civilization. In addition to Mayer's private collection, the museum houses antique chess pieces, dominoes and playing cards; daggers, swords, helmets; textiles; jewelry; glassware, pottery and metalware produced in Islamic countries, from Spain to India. A collection of Islamic carpets was added in 1999.
A gallery in the museum also displays the David Salomons clock and watch collection. Salomons was the nephew of the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London.
On 15 April 1983 some 200 items, including paintings and dozens of rare clocks and watches, were stolen when the museum was burgled. Among the stolen timepieces was the watch known as the "Marie Antoinette", the so-called "Mona Lisa" of watches, and the crown jewel of the watch collection, made by the famed French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet reputedly for Queen Marie Antoinette, and estimated to be worth US$30 million. It was part of a unique collection of 57 Breguet timepieces donated to the museum by the daughter of Sir David Lionel Salomons, one of the leading experts on Breguet.
At the time, evidence at the scene led to speculation that it had been committed by at least four burglars, but in the late 2000s Israeli police arrested Naaman Diller, who had committed a number of burglaries and bank break-ins in the 1960s and 1970s. Diller had acted alone after discovering that the museum's alarm system was not working and the guard was posted at the front of the building. Behind the cover of a parked truck, Diller used a crowbar to prise apart the bars on a rear window. Items he could not remove in one piece were dismantled. Diller stashed many of the stolen items in safety deposit boxes in Europe and the USA, before settling in Los Angeles.
The case remained unsolved for more than 20 years. In August 2006, a Tel Aviv antiques appraiser contacted the museum and reported that some of the stolen items were being held by a Tel Aviv lawyer whose client had inherited them from her deceased husband, and who wished to sell them back to the museum. The original asking price was US$2 million (the value of the reward offered in the case) but this was negotiated down to US$35,000. Among the returned items was the "Marie Antoinette" and a valuable "Sympathique" clock, also by Breguet. A later search of a warehouse in Israel produced documents that led to safety deposit boxes owned by Diller in Israel, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. Police identified the client as Nili Shamrat, an expatriate Israeli who had married Diller in 2003. She told police that just before her husband's death in 2004 he confessed and advised her to sell the collection. Shamrat was arrested in May 2008 after a house search by Israeli and American investigators found several of the stolen clocks, some rare 18th-century paintings and catalog cards bearing the name of the clocks and their manufacturers.
On November 18, 2008, French and Israeli police officials discovered 43 more stolen timepieces in two bank safes in France. Of the 106 rare timepieces stolen in 1983, 96 have now been recovered.
In 2008, a group exhibit of contemporary Arab art opened at L.A. Mayer Institute, the first show of local Arab art in an Israeli museum and the first to be mounted by an Arab curator. Thirteen Arab artists participated in the show.