Framed historiated initials triptych

Framed historiated initials triptych, £30,000 at Mallams.

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Among the highlights at Mallams’ latest Oxford Library sale was a French 15th century illuminated medieval Book of Hours manuscript and a framed historiated initials triptych. The framed triptych, estimated at £6000-8000, drew competition from dealers and collectors and eventually hammered down at £30,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) to a member of the London book trade.

More than 70 lots in the two-day auction on February 7-8 were from the family of John Percival Love, a former chairman of antiquarian bookseller Francis Edwards. Love (1896-1974) collected incunabula and antiquarian books and following his death much of his collection had been kept in a bank vault by his family until this Mallams sale.

The historiated initials triptych was placed in a c.1920s ‘Medici’ style frame and together measured 11 x 26in (29 x 67cm). Cut from a Benedictine book, it featured ‘The Two Maries and The Angel of the Tomb with Seascape in background’; ‘Christ Washing Peter’s Feet John the Baptist in Attendance with Towel with the eight other Disciples’; and ‘The Birth of The Virgin, St Anne Lies in Canopied Bed with Attendant Figures’.

As well as its recent Love collection ownership, it had previously been part of the Holford Collection and sold at Christie’s on July 12, 1927. That dispersal, which took place across multiple sales during 1927-28, produced a succession of high prices – just before the Wall Street crash of 1929. Mallams senior director Benjamin Lloyd said: “It is all about provenance – demand is so much greater if there is a great provenance. The Holford Collection auctions were said to have been viewed by more than 10,000 people.”

Robert Weaver, keeper of the Fellows’ Library at Dulwich College and medieval manuscript fragment collector was in the room at the Mallams auction. He said of the framed historiated initials: “It was a real looker. The quality was very high and that determined there was a lot of interest. Often they come up singly.

“Forerunners of Renaissance panel paintings, they have been collectable since the 18th century. I am not surprised the trade were interested. They were framed spectacularly and very decorative, although a connoisseur might put them into mounts.”

Weaver added: “Examples such as these were from Italian church books and cut up in the 18th and 19th century. Collectors were taxed if they brought in whole books so instead single pages or cut-up fragments were collected to avoid tax.”

It is thought that with research the group could be attributed to a particular master. ‘The Two Maries and The Angel of the Tomb with Seascape in background’ is signed BF, a clue to its creator.

French 15th century Book of Hours manuscript

French 15th century illuminated medieval Book of Hours manuscript, £32,000 at Mallams.

The 15th century illuminated Hours of the Virgin manuscript, estimated at £20,000-30,000, was hammered down at £32,000 (plus 30% buyer’s premium inc VAT) to a member of the French trade, underbid by other dealers.

It contained 241 vellum leaves but was misbound (possibly missing nine folios, around five of which would have had miniatures).

Mallams’ cataloguing was assisted by the services of an Oxford medieval manuscript specialist.

Lloyd said the entire two-day sale was viewed by “more people than we have seen in a long time” with “1600 people online”.