Auctions | June 9, 2017

A Wealth of Western & Oriental Manuscripts & Miniatures at Bloomsbury Auctions in July

Western & Oriental Mans & Mins .jpegBloomsbury Auctions will hold their fifth sale devoted to manuscripts and miniatures on 6 July at 16-17 Pall Mall. The sale comprises a wealth of fascinating, rare and important Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. With 175 lots ranging in date from the 8th century to the 1800s, the sale offers buyers a rich selection of text fragments and leaves, illuminated miniatures, charters (including an important 13th century English rental roll) and codices, with several key pieces fresh to the market. Dr Timothy Bolton, Head of Department comments, “Bloomsbury Auctions are proud to be the only auction house to offer regular sales dedicated solely to that most refined form of all book arts - manuscripts; and with this colossus of a sale we are especially delighted to continue to bring to the market a wide variety of examples from both the West and the Near East together in a single catalogue.”

Western Manuscripts and Miniatures

A previously unrecorded choir book leaf from a set of antiphonaries produced by the newly identified Master of the Montepulciano Gradual, features in the sale (Lot 62, Est. £15,000 - 20,000). The leaf is in immaculate condition and although it is from a known book by a recognised artist, it is otherwise unrecorded. The artist was renowned for great innovation and accomplishment, working in Central Italy c. 1325-1335. The leaf features a large and beautifully decorated historiated initial ‘V’ which encloses a female saint, shown being crowned at the moment of execution. The scene demonstrates the simplicity of 14th century liturgical illumination, and also the intricacy, best shown through the detail of the executioner’s the sword and club, which draw the eye and point to the artist’s great skill. 

A fascinating travel text, titled the Antonine Itinerary, is another interesting and high value piece (Lot 98, Est £20,000-30,000). It can perhaps be thought of as a Roman Google maps app, detailing in list form the places and cities in the Roman Empire and the number of days it would take to journey there by foot from Rome. Originally this would have been used by military powers in the Roman Empire when planning the moving of troops. It also includes information for maritime travel and ports. The text was originally written in the 3rd century AD, but no copy survives from before the Middle Ages. This one dates to c. 1500 and is most probably the only manuscript of it to ever come to the open market. Notably it lists the oldest recorded town in the UK, Camulodunum or as we know it today, Colchester.

A remarkable and rare scroll measuring nearly four metres in length and dating back to the 13th century, likely before 1291, details the rents paid on the Christchurch ecclesiastical estate in Ipswich. The scroll is in excellent condition, with original stitching and beautiful script in Latin. It neatly lists the names of those living on the estate and how much they paid the church (Lot 69, Est. £3,000-5,000). 

A newly discovered Glagolitic fragment is a highlight. The strange and angular Glagolitic script is the oldest known Slavic alphabet, created in the 9th century by Saint Cyril, a Byzantine monk from Thessaloniki. Glagolitic script survives in only tiny numbers, and is one of the rarest to come to the market. Carrying an estimate of £8,000-12,000 (Lot 91), the script is part of the reading for the Feast of St. Apollonia. Only four sets of similar fragments have been offered for sale in the last two hundred years, but this remarkable piece appears in fresher condition than any other in living memory. 

A standout piece from the end of the 14th century is The Hardouin Hours, a charming and exquisitely illustrated Book of Hours, many pages decorated with fearsome dragons. This was written and illuminated in Paris at the turn of the 15th century for a wealthy and influential patron from Brittany. Further illustrative details include, a hare with a bow and arrow, a white stork watching as two brown boars run up the vertical bar border, a yellow duck about to take flight and elsewhere, a rabbit playing the bagpipes (Lot 115, Est. £25,000-35,000). 

Oriental Manuscripts & Miniatures 

The Oriental section features a single-owner collection of Indian Miniatures. Collected over 40 years, it is evident the collector has a superb eye for exceptional pieces. A mid 19th century miniature depicts a story from the Bhagavata Purana with Lord Krishna and the gopis (Lot 164, Est. £2,500-3,500). Here Krishna is shown moments before he steals the gopis’ clothing and hides up a nearby tree. As the story continues, the gopis beg for their clothes to be returned. This relates spiritually to the idea that to show true adoration, one needs to be rid of all earthly possessions. Typically, Krishna is shown already in the tree, so this illustration is special because of the sense of anticipation as to what is about to unfold. 

A stunning Pichhwai on linen also shows Lord Krishna dancing in the Vrindavan Gardens with adoring gopis nearby (Lot 167, Est. £1,500-2,000). Measuring an impressive 880 by 880mm, the scene is colourfully decorated with a great range of animals including fish, turtles, storks, monkeys and parrots as well as deities flying in the sky. Pichhwai paintings originated in the holy town of Nathdwara, Rajasthan, and typically illustrate scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. They were traditionally painted on cloth and used as wall hangings for royal households. 

An important patron of the arts, Maharao Ram Singh II of Kota is depicted in a striking illuminated miniature dated c.1850 (Lot 168, Est £4,000-6,000). Maharao Ram Sing II had a fondness for commissioning his portrait and is sometimes shown in surreal or fanciful scenarios. 

Here however is a modest scene showing him flanked by two attendants and dressed in a beautiful brocade gown and draped in pearl and emerald necklaces, he serenely holds out a flower to his mistress who is unseen. 

The sale offers further star lots from other properties. Demonstrating considerable detail is a mid 17th century piece from a dispersed manuscript which features another prolific patron of the arts, Shah Jahan (Lot 171, Est. £800-1,200). He is shown seated on a composite elephant, made up of a plethora of other animals such as monkeys, fish, with tiny tortoises making up the elephant’s feet, and a snake making up the tail. This leaf is evidently from an opulently illustrated Persian manuscript, probably commissioned by a high-ranking official in the Moghul court. 

A Moroccan, Dala’il al-Khayrat, prayer book (Lot 131, Est £1,000-1,500) containing five full page illustrations of Mecca, Medina and the Prophet’s Tomb in a rich colourway of yellow and red is an additional sale highlight.