A collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and printed books is expected to be sold for over $8,000,000 (US) at auction in April. The highlight of the sale will be a Parisian Book of Hours, created around the year 1440 by the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus, which will likely fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million.
The Christie’s auction house in New York will be hosting the sale on 23 April. It features the collection of Elaine and Alexandre P. Rosenberg, which includes 17 manuscripts and over 200 early printed books. All proceeds of the sale will benefit designated museums for the support of their rare book departments. All of the illuminated manuscripts will be previewed at Christie’s Paris galleries from 18-23 March.
“The collection of illuminated manuscripts belonging to Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg represents the pinnacle of European Renaissance book painting and surely ranks as one of the greatest private collections of its kind in the world,” comments Eugenio Donadoni, a Senior Specialist at Christie’s with their Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. “The sale comes out of a decades-long relationship between Christie’s and Elaine Rosenberg, and we are proud to honor the Rosenbergs’ collecting and philanthropic legacy with this once in a generation auction.”
The 17 illuminated manuscripts offered for sale represent the culmination of 15th- and 16th-century European manuscript painting and are a testament to the discerning taste of Alexandre and Elaine Rosenberg. Each manuscript presents an intimate gallery of miniature paintings by some of the most sought-after and accomplished artists of the French Renaissance: the Bedford Master, the Master of the Paris Bartholomaeus Anglicus, the Master of Jacques de Besançon, the Master of Jean de Mauléon; each manuscript stands out for its striking compositions, its jewel-like artworks, its sumptuous illumination or its understated, subtle elegance. Owned by some of the most important bibliophiles and collectors of their time – from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to the Earl of Ashburnham, Alfred Chester-Beatty, Henry Huth, William Randolph Hearst and André Hachette.
All highly individual, these manuscripts were made for lay owners. Beautiful, varied and highly personalized, through their pages the modern reader gets a very distinct sense of the original owner’s tastes, concerns and lives.
The printed books comprise over 200 volumes of the 15th century, representing the most extensive collection of incunabula offered for public sale in decades, and about a dozen Books of Hours, mostly printed on vellum, of the early 16th century. The assemblage is remarkable for the high proportion of volumes in their original 15th-century bindings, often elaborately decorated with tooling which can be localized to workshops in both Germany and across the Alps. The documentation of the geographical spread of printing in the first decades after Gutenberg must have had great resonance for Alexandre Rosenberg. He kept a mid-century map of Europe in his study and meticulously placed pins to mark the origins of the books in his collection. Not only were the printed books mapped but also faithfully collated, described, photographed, and documented with receipts from the 1950s through the 1980s—providing a capsule view of the important auctions and dealers from these decades.
Extremely rare and significant among the printed books is a complete first edition of the works of Plato (estimate to sell for between $200,000-400,000). This edition was translated by Marsilio Ficino, one of the greatest scholars of Greek in the Renaissance and printed in Florence by the nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli. Very little of Plato’s work had been accessible to Latin readers before Ficino’s translation and this edition marks the return of Plato’s philosophy to Western Europe after an absence of nearly 1,000 years. The last complete copy offered at auction was sold in 1959 and was a mixed set; whereas the Rosenberg Plato appears complete since the 15th century and bears an early fore-edge painting of putti to underscore its integrity.
Top Image: The Book of Hours by the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus. Image courtesy Christie’s