January 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record

On January 29th, the Rothschild Prayerbook will be offered for auction by Christie's with an estimate at $15 -$18 million. The book already holds the world record for an illuminated manuscript, when it was sold by Christie's fifteen years ago for $13 million.

The Rothschild Prayerbook is a Book of Hours commissioned by a member of Holland's imperial court circa 1505. The gorgeously detailed manuscript features 150 decorated pages with miniatures and borders painted by renowned artists including Gerard Horenbout, Simon Bening, Alexander Bening and Gerard David.

"Every aspect of this Book of Hours - from the quality of the parchment to the wealth and refinement of the decoration - marks the Rothschild Prayerbook as one of the most prestigious and exquisite examples of Flemish manuscript illumination," said Nicholas Hall, International Co-Chairman of Old Masters & 19th-Century Art.

Dr. Sandra Hindman, expert on Medieval and Renaissance illustration and owner of Les Enluminures galleries in Chicago, New York, and Paris, offered some context on the sale:

"Recent demand for Books of Hours has been fueled by increased scholarship over the last few years, which in turn has led to new discoveries and attributions. Moreover, Books of Hours remain such treasured objects because of the exceptional level of artistry exhibited by the distinctive craftsmanship of each work -- each illuminated initial, handset page, and gilt binding -- puts other rare books to shame. Also their condition makes them quite exceptional, as illuminated manuscripts cannot be restored. In fact, among our recent museum-quality offerings, the Tree of Jesse by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse (France, Paris c. 1490) and Virgin and Child, Book of Hours (Use of Rome) (Southern Netherlands, Bruges c. 1450) constitute some the best preserved examples of medieval painting from those time periods and regions."

Hindman also added some advice for any collectors considering branching into Books of Hours:

"Look for richness of detailing on the border, and the quality of the marginal illustrations. Medieval clients paid by the page and painted scene, and even more for such expensive materials as gold leaf or lapis lazuli, and so should you. Often commissioned by royals and aristocrats, best examples among these "Medieval bestsellers" feature richly painted and layered visual illustrations, ornately decorated with gilding and inks made with pigments of ground precious stones. Avoid fading or flaking paint, retouched miniatures, excessive trimming due to rebinding, and paper backing as early fine manuscripts were mostly made from papyrus and animal skins."

Dr. Hindman will be speaking about Books of Hours at the Winter Antiques Show in New York City on Jan. 29, the same day the Rothschild Prayerbook will go under the hammer.

View a special e-catalogue issued by Christie's for the Prayerbook here.