Auctions | February 11, 2021

Christie’s to Offer Illuminated Manuscripts and Early Books from the Rosenberg Collection

Courtesy of Christie's

Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus Book of Hours. Illuminated manuscript on vellum, Anjou or Le Mans, c. 1440s. Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000

New York – Christie’s is honored to present one the most important collections of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books to have appeared at auction: the collection of Elaine and Alexandre P. Rosenberg, which includes 17 outstanding Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and over 200 Renaissance printed books. The auction will be held on 23 April during Christie’s Classic Week in New York. The highlight of the collection is a masterpiece of book painting: the best and most richly illuminated example of the work of the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus, a Parisian Book of Hours, circa 1440, with 16 miniature paintings (estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000). The Collection is expected to achieve in excess of $8,000,000, and 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.

Eugenio Donadoni, Senior Specialist, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, London comments, “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. 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.”

Illuminated Manuscripts

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 – several were exhibited at The Morgan Library in 1982 and appeared in John Plummer’s ground-breaking catalogue The Last Flowering: French painting in manuscripts, 1420-1530.

All highly individual, these manuscripts were not meant for the religious to use, not for clergy or monks in churches and monasteries, but for the delight of their lay owners. Beautiful, varied and highly personalized, through the pages the modern reader gets a very distinct sense of the original owner’s tastes, concerns and lives.

Early Printed Books

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: $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.

The Collectors

Alexandre P. Rosenberg (1921-1987) was the son of the pre-eminent French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, one of the greatest figures in the Parisian art world of the 20th century, representing giants of modern art such as Picasso, Matisse and Braque, and an instrumental figure in the migration of French pictures to the United States during the first half of the last century. Alexandre continued the family business and joined his father in New York in 1946 after serving through the war with the Free French forces. Upon his father’s death in 1957, Alexandre took over the 79th Street Rosenberg gallery and won acclaim with exhibitions that ranged from Renaissance bronzes to Cezanne and Picasso, American modernists, and contemporaries from England and Italy. He became the founding president of the Art Dealers Association of America and was widely respected as the ideal of a ‘scholar-dealer.’ His love of books was intrinsic and concurrent to his love of art. Alexandre was only about 14 years old when family friend Pablo Picasso designed a woodcut bookplate for him with the motif of an open window and view of the sea. Alexandre used the circa 1935 bookplate throughout his life and it is present in most of the books offered in the auction.

Elaine Rosenberg (1921–2020), daughter of Frederik Sobel and Martha Bauman Sobel, was born and raised in New York City. She worked as an aircraft riveter in California, and then at the Department of Censorship in New York City during World War II. In 1948 she married Alexandre, and together they shared a life of connoisseurship, collecting and philanthropy. After Alexandre’s premature death in 1987, Elaine continued to pursue the family’s quest for restitution of art looted by the Nazis during the war. She was an active and influential Fellow of The Morgan Library and remained deeply involved with the Museum of Modern Art and the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her generous bequests of the Paul Rosenberg Archives to MoMA in 2007, and of the splendid Prayer Book of Claude de France to The Morgan Library in 2008 were but two examples of her extensive philanthropy. As was Elaine’s wish, her family have designated all proceeds from the present auction to benefit museums for the support of their rare book collections.