Book of hours is put back together after 300 years

But within a century of its production, the whereabouts of The Hours of Louis XII were unknown. By 1700 its 36 pages were scattered to the wind, only gradually reappearing in collections in Britain and France.

The hunt is still on for 19 pages. But for the first time in at least three centuries, 15 of the 16 known pages, or miniatures, have been reassembled for an exhibition that has just opened at the Getty Centre in Los Angeles and comes to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in February.

It includes three miniatures recently acquired by the Getty and the V& A's own miniature, "The Nativity", which was bought for £250,000 two years ago.

The organisers hope that the publicity surrounding the reconstruction will bring other leaves to light. Mark Evans, the V&A's senior curator of paintings, said: "I remain optimistic that other miniatures survive."

The Hours of Louis XII was illuminated by Jean Bourdichon, a court painter, in 1498-9. Its pages were meant to inspire and guide private devotion - although one, of a naked Bathsheba bathing, seems curiously provo-cative for a pious book.

By the late 1500s, however, its whereabouts were unknown. It may have come to England after Louis XII's death in 1515, where its leaves may have been dispersed. Two, which later passed to the British Museum, were documented in a volume of calligraphy compiled by the diarist Samuel Pepys. The book's text was given to the British Library in 1757. In 1848, the English politician Henry Labouchere acquired one miniature and 40 years later, three more were bought by an Argyll landowner, John Malcolm of Poltalloch.

In the 20th century, others surfaced at auction. One was given to the Bristol Art Gallery and another to the National Library of Scotland. But the detective story only began in earnest in 1973 when Janet Backhouse, an academic, identified a sequence of pages and the British Library text as coming from a major French book of hours. This exhibition is the result of three decades of research.

"A Masterpiece Reconstructed: The Hours of Louis XII" runs at the Getty until 8 January and then at the V&A from 2 February until 1 May.

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