Illuminated manuscripts and medieval masterpieces up for auction

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The Independent Culture

An extensive collection of medieval and renaissance works, including the personal prayer book of King François I of France, will be on display in London July 3 through 7, announced Christie's on March 24. The Arcana Collection: Exceptional Illuminated Manuscripts and Incunabula Part I includes manuscripts illuminated for royals, bishops, and aristocracy of the 13th to 16th centuries, as well as works of literature and on the natural world.

Christie's reports that the collection, expected to go for between £11 to £16 million (€12.2 to 17.8 million) at auction on July 7, is the most valuable collection of such works to ever go up for auction. Assembled by a private collector over three decades, it includes personal prayer books (called "Books of Hours") made for King François I of France, a leading patron of Leonardo da Vinci and the first owner of The Mona Lisa, as well as King Henry IV of France and Elizabeth de Bohun, great grandmother of King Henry V of England. The entire collection will be on public exhibition for the first time.

Illuminated manuscripts - handwritten books with illustrations and decorations painted in vibrant colors and gold - were among the most valuable items owned by renaissance kings and princes. Books of Hours were the most popular type of illuminated manuscript, used for private devotion and also intended to reflect the wealth and status of their owner.

Highlights of the collection include:

-A Book of Hours illuminated for King François I of France by the Master of François
de Rohan.

-The Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Northampton and great-grandmother of King Henry V of England. These were lent by a previous owner, William Waldorf Astor, to the 1883 exhibition in New York that raised funds for a pedestal for The Statue of Liberty.

-A manuscript Bible produced in Italy in the middle of the 13th century with extensive painted illustrations. Expected to be the most expensive item up for auction with an estimate of £2.5 to £3.5 million (€2.8 to 3.9 million).

-The Epistres d'Ovide, the earliest translation into French of Ovid's Heroines, made in the 14th century for Anne of Brittany, Queen to two Kings of France, Charles VIII and Louis XII, and mother of the wife of King Francois I.

-The first edition of Boccaccio's On Famous Women, printed in 1473, a masterpiece of German woodcut illustration.

-The first edition of Pliny's Natural History in Italian, a masterpiece of early typography printed in Venice in 1476.

-The Cauchon Hours, made in the middle of the 15th century for a noble couple from Rheims.

-One of the most celebrated books of the Italian Renaissance, the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, in the copy originally owned by famous 16th century bibliophile Jean Grolier.

The Arcana Collection will be on public exhibition July 3-7, at Christie's in London, alongside the Old Masters and 19th Century Art auction. For more information, and to view a catalog closer to the auction date, visit