The thrill of holding a handwritten book, perhaps once owned by a king, a Pope or a celebrated Renaissance scholar, has long set manuscripts apart from all other category of book. Each is unique and intrinsically linked to the scribes and artists who produced it, and many in their long histories formed important parts of the libraries of medieval institutions and aristocratic courts as well as the grand libraries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A number contain readings of texts surviving nowhere else, and change our understanding of that text on their discovery. Others are quite simply, beautiful. All are fascinating in their own individual way.
Highlights from Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures, 10th July
The recent sale included such jewels of the Western book world as an opulently illuminated prayer book made around 1490 for Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), (showing left), the foremost female patron of the Italian Renaissance (lot 90: sold for £421,600); a thirteenth-century Bible from medieval Canterbury Cathedral, with 83 painted scenes set within its tiny decorated initial letters (lot 81: sold for £124,000), which is the very last recorded book from that crucial medieval library outside of institutional ownership; a copy of the principal account of the fantastic life of Alexander the Great, (showing above), made in northern Italy in the fourteenth century, and still in its contemporary binding (lot 80: sold for £37,200), and the only copy to come to the open market since 1914.
From the Islamic world and neighbouring cultures of the East, we offered a fine Persian Divan of Poetry in Arabic, on blue paper speckled with gold, from the second quarter of the 16th century (lot 119: sold for £16,120), two large panoramic views of Mecca, painted around 1840, showing above (lot 139: sold for £4,960), (showing above), as well as a tiny but precise Ganjifa playing card, (showing right), from early 19th-century Mughal India, depicting a mounted hunter (lot 149: sold for £124).