Presenting 17 illuminated manuscripts and a large number of 15th century printed books, many in their original bindings, a truly exceptional collection of around 200 lots sold at Christie’s New York (15/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) on April 23 was one assembled by Alexandre P Rosenberg (1921-87).
The son of a pre-eminent French art dealer, he was a collector whose bookplate, found in most of those lots, was one specially designed for him by Picasso when he was just 14 years old.
With only a handful of lots left unsold, the collection raised almost £9m, including premiums.
At the wish of his widow, Elaine, who died just last year, all proceeds will go to benefit the rare book departments of a number of designated museums and libraries.
Richly illuminated Books of Hours were, with one exception noted below, the star turns.
Heading the list at $3m (£2.17m) was one regarded as the finest work of a man employed at the court in Anjou and active in the years 1430-50, but today known only as the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus.
He is the man in a gold-trimmed robe who is depicted kneeling before the Virgin and Child in the spread reproduced topand whose coat of arms appears twice in the manuscript, but has been very carefully overpainted in gold, almost certainly in medieval times.
Owners of this sumptuous work have included, in more recent times, two of the great manuscript collectors of the 19th and early 20th century: the 4th Earl of Ashburnham and Henry Yates Thompson. The latter sold it at Sotheby’s in 1914.
Among more recent owners were Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, at whose 1968 sale it made £17,000, and the anonymous collector from whose collection it was acquired by that distinguished dealer, Hans P Kraus in a Sotheby’s auction of 1977 for £61,000 and later sold on to the Rosenbergs at $200,000.
It was from Kraus that the Rosenbergs also acquired a manuscript known, after one of its earlier owners, as the Book of Hours of Charles V.
Illuminated in the workshops of Gerard Horenbout, c.1515, its exquisite miniatures and figurative borders include scenes of daily life and even one of the earlier depictions of a game of golf. In the recent US sale it sold at $700,000 (£507,245).
Bid to $780,000 (£565,215) was a Parisian Book of Hours that Christie’s described as having been painted c.1525 “with finesse and flamboyance” by the Master of Jean de Mauléon.
He was one of a group of artists associated with the Antwerptrained painter Noël Bellemare, and under whose direction an entirely new style was introduced in French illumination. His creations are now ranked among the greatest achievements of French renaissance painting.
Once again the familiar names of Huth, Chester Beatty and Kraus, who sold it on to Rosenberg, feature in the provenance.
Works of Plato
My final pick from this superlative collection is one in which illustrations were not the main attraction.
Bid to a far higher than predicted $830,000 (£601,450) was a copy of the first edition in any language of the complete works of Plato.
A translation by Marsilio Ficino produced under the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici and printed in Florence in the years 1484-85, its production has been attributed to Lorenzo de Alopa but, as the saleroom pointed out, it was mostly the work of Dominican nuns of San Jacopo de Ripoli – the first women known to have worked as typesetters.
Containing considerable marginalia in two 16th century hands, it was first recorded in the collections of Michele Cavaleri, a 19th century Milanese lawyer and collector.