This opulent manuscript on 240 leaves of parchment was created c.1490 by the Florentine brothers Gherardo and Monte di Giovanni del Fora.
It was made for Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), daughter of Ercole I d’Este, duke of Ferrara, and the wife of Francesco Gonzaga, marquis de Mantua.
She was 16 when she married, and the arms of Este and Gonzaga that form part of the first illuminated double page suggest the Hours was a wedding gift, perhaps from Lorenzo de Medici (1449-92), who retained Gherardo di Giovanni in his household.
Isabella had a privileged and enlightened upbringing and even as a youth had her own library rich in classical texts and a complete presentation set of Aldines on parchment. Her husband lamented later in life: “We are chagrined at our fortune of having a wife who always wants to do things according to her own mind.”
However, Gonzaga had been content for his companion – who excelled in the male-dominated spheres of oratory, horse riding and art collecting – to rule in his stead during numerous absences from Mantua.
This book, kept for Isabella’s private devotions in a bedchamber or chapel, was probably part of the Gonzaga library acquired by Cardinal Richelieu in the 1620s at the time other art treasures (including Andrea Mantegna’s series of nine paintings, The Triumph of Caesar) were being sold to Charles I to repair the family fortunes.
Now housed in a late 19th century morocco binding by Marius-Michel, it was owned by the Cartier family from 1921 until it was sold by Sotheby’s Monte Carlo in 1979 and again at Sotheby’s in London in 2012 when it sold to the vendor at £217,250.