News | November 23, 2011

Les Enluminures' Research Pays Off in Sale to the Met

PARIS Nov 23 - When Medieval and Renaissance art dealer Sandra Hindman of Galerie Les Enluminures in Paris purchased the “Hours of King Francis I” at the widely publicized July 7, 2010 sale of illuminated manuscripts and printed books forming part of the Arcana Collection (Part I) at Christie’s in London she was convinced that the manuscript was much more important than the auction catalogue or previous articles acknowledged.  Her instincts were right and now the Paris and Chicago-based gallery has sold the manuscript for an undisclosed price to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At the Christie’s auction, the Hours of King Francis I, previously on deposit at the British Library, fetched £337,250 (about $540,000), against a low estimate of £ 300,000.
Hindman says, “King Francis I, the patron of the royal manuscript, was the quintessential Renaissance monarch, the founder of the Louvre, and the patron of Leonardo da Vinci.   My colleague Ariane Bergeron-Foote (archiviste-paléographe) and I knew that by virtue of its art and patronage this lavishly illustrated Book of Hours ranked high among the great treasures of illumination.”

“Auction houses do their best to understand each piece of art they sell but no one had really applied the weeks and months of research needed to expand on the corpus of knowledge about this particular Book of Hours. We decided we would do that and we launched a full-scale investigation.”

In Latin, the Hours of Francis I (Book of Rome) is an illuminated manuscript on parchment that includes 18 large miniatures and one historical initial by the Master of Francois de Rohan (Paris, active c1525-1546).

“Early on we confirmed that this was the only extant Book of Hours with a contemporary illumination actually made for King Francis I - an element not stressed in the auction catalogue,” Hindman says.

Hindman and Bergeron-Foote next set out to explain more fully why the King’s portrait faces such a rare text, the prayers to an unusual saint, Saint Marcoulf.  Veneration before Saint Marcoulf enabled the King to cure a rare skin disease among his subjects.  Hindman and Bergeron-Foote found that the prayers were probably written specifically for the King and appear only for the second time in this manuscript.  They further uncovered records of the King exercising these miraculous powers in his public appearances just around the time that the manuscript was illuminated.

“Most extraordinary, however,” Hindman says, “Is that as we combed the published literature and the archives, we discovered a key document that records that the “escripvain du roy” (or “king’s scribe) Jean Mallard was paid for writing a Book of Hours for Francis I at the end of 1538, when he delivered it to the king to be illuminated.  Following a disagreement with King Francis I, Mallard left France shortly thereafter to join the employ of King Henry VIII of England.  Scrupulous comparison between Mallard’s signed Psalter of Henry VIII, dated 1540, and the Hours of Francis I reveals close similarities in script, decoration, and even layout. The Hours of Francis I thus turns out to be a sort of sister manuscript of the celebrated royal Psalter of Henry VIII, penned by the same hand.”

Hindman adds that, “For the twenty years I have been in business I have always sought to apply the best expertise I can to unearth new information about the prized artworks I acquire.  I’m trained as an art historian and worked all my life as a professor, after all, and that’s what we do:  thoroughgoing research.  Now I apply the same principles to my business.  My willingness to invest my staff’s time, and to retain outside experts when  needed, truly adds to the relationships I have built with major museums, libraries, universities and private clients.  We rarely sell a work of art before ‘getting to the bottom of the story’ as it were.”

Photographs from the Francis I Book of Hours are currently available using the technology of “Turning the Pages” on the website of Les Enluminures: