Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An amazing collection of illuminated manuscripts

Being something of a bibliophile, my imagination was captured by a report of a sale of illuminated manuscripts to be conducted by Christie's in London in July. The Telegraph reports:

An ''outstanding'' collection of illuminated manuscripts previously owned by kings, bishops and the aristocracy is expected to fetch up to £16 million when it goes under the hammer.

The private collection, which Christie's described as the most valuable of its kind ever to be offered at auction, includes the personal prayerbooks of King Francois I of France and Elizabeth de Bohun, great-grandmother of King Henry V of England.

The Arcana Collection: Exceptional Illuminated Manuscripts And Incunabula, which has a total estimate of between £11 million and £16 million, will go on sale in July.

But the sale is just the first part of the auction and more works which are currently being valued are expected to be offered to bidders over the next 18 months.

The manuscripts are owned by an anonymous American collector, who spent three decades amassing the prized items.

The illuminated manuscripts are handwritten books with illustrations and decorations painted in brilliant colours and gold.

Books Of Hours - prayerbooks intended for private use - were the most popular type of illuminated manuscript and their appearance could be tailored to an individual's taste.

. . .

Highlights of the collection include:

- A Book Of Hours illuminated for King Francois I of France, expected to realise £300,000 to £500,000.

Francois is described as one of the greatest princely patrons of the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years in the king's service. After his death Francois acquired The Mona Lisa from the artist's estate.

- The Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Northampton and great-grandmother of King Henry V of England, are expected to realise £2 million to £3 million.

These were lent by a previous owner, William Waldorf Astor, to the important loan exhibition in New York 1883 which raised funds for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.

- A manuscript Bible produced in Italy in the middle of the 13th century.

It appears to have been made for the use of a convent of Dominican friars and carries an estimate of £2.5 million to £3.5 million.

The manuscripts will also go on public exhibition for the first time, between July 3 an 7, alongside Christie's auction of Old Masters and 19th Century Art.

There's more at the link.

It never ceases to astonish me to think of the incredible labor invested in the making of each one of these manuscripts. For a full Bible, lavishly illustrated, as many as several hundred people (many of them monks) would have labored for years to produce that single volume. Totally uneconomical, of course, except for the very rich . . . but I'm not sure that the dedication shown in the production of such work would survive in our machine and electronic age.



Old NFO said...

They are beautiful!!! I cannot imagine the time and effort that each must have taken

harp1034 said...

I am glad you can afford to buy one. I have to settle for a regular old michine made Bible made in our time.
Nevertheless thanks for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...

"Totally uneconomical, of course, except for the very rich . . . but I'm not sure that the dedication shown in the production of such work would survive in our machine and electronic age."

There are still a few artisans capable of doing this work. Given a preference, though, I prefer the near-universal literacy that makes this machine age possible.

These manuscripts are wonderful--nothing can detract from that.


Jenny said...

I think the dedication is still very much alive. Like Antibubba said, there's quite a few people out there today who are doing similar work. I especially love that the originals are more frequently being digitized these days, as those interested in continuing to resurrect the art can examine originals without trekking half the world away to a museum.