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Armchair Travel

The Great Hours and Horrors

The Great Hours of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript, £1,217,250 ($1,956,120) at Christie’s London on July 6.

Galeazzo Maria Sforza’s beautifully illuminated Book of Hours. Courtesy of Christie’s.

This sumptuous renaissance manuscript was written and illuminated in the years 1471-76 for the Count of Pavia and Duke of Milan, a man who had a taste for splendor and display but is remembered not for his patronage of the arts, but as a lustful, cruel, and tyrannical figure who in the year that this Book of Hours was completed was assassinated by three high-ranking Milanese court officials.

A notorious womanizer, said to have raped the wives and daughters of numerous Milanese nobles, Galeazzo Maria Sforza also took sadistic pleasure in devising tortures for those who had offended him. He once had a poacher executed by forcing him to swallow an entire hare, fur and all, and had another man nailed alive to his coffin. He also had starved to death a priest who had unwisely predicted that he would enjoy only a short reign.

But back to the manuscript. With pages almost fourteen inches deep, it is exceptionally large for a Book of Hours and would have required the use of a complete goatskin for each bifolium. The decoration includes almost one hundred illuminated initials and splendid title-pages with colored display script, historiated initials, and borders inhabited with emblems and heraldic device (like that illustrated here).

The manuscript, which in later years is thought to have been part of the Aragonese royal library at Naples and in the nineteenth century was brought to England by the first Viscount Astor, was last seen at auction at Sotheby’s in 1988 when the price was £770,000 (then $1,493,800).

Jazz Legends and Elton’s Comic Strip

Signed photographs of Django Reinhardt and Billie Holiday, £2,480 ($3,990) and £2,852 ($4,590), and a Peanuts cartoon strip inscribed for Elton John, £2,480 ($3,990), all at International Autograph Auctions of London on July 16-17.

Django Reinhardt’s autographed photograph. Courtesy of International Autograph Auctions.

Sold for a ten times the low estimate sum, the signed and inscribed, Harcourt of Paris photo-portrait of the great jazz guitarist and composer, Django Reinhardt, shows him holding a cigarette in his right hand, but it is his left that is musically famous.

Billie Holiday signed herself as “Lady Day” on this photograph. Courtesy of International Autograph Auctions.

At the age of eighteen, this son of a Belgian gypsy family received first- and second-degree burns over half his body. His right leg was paralyzed, and the third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned. Doctors believed that he would never play guitar again and intended to amputate one of his legs, but he refused to have the surgery, and with practice learned to play in a completely new way. His third and fourth fingers remained partially paralyzed so he played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, and used the two injured digits only for chord work.

A strip of Peanuts inscribed by Charles M. Schultz to musician Elton John. Courtesy of International Autograph Auctions.

The portrait of another jazz legend, Billie Holiday was particularly appealing in bearing an inscription that incorporates her nickname, “For Jack, Thanks for loving me. Stay as fine as you are. Lady Day, Billie Holiday.”

In one of Charles M. Schulz’s famous Peanuts comic strips, Lucy asks Schroeder, “What makes you think Beethoven was better than Elton John?” Schroeder responds by presenting Lucy with a trophy and explains “You have just won the award for the most stupid question of the year!”

It is not the original artwork, just a reproduction, but it is signed and inscribed by Schulz “For Elton John, with admiration and every best wish.” It was first sold as part of a 1988 Sotheby’s sale of Elton John’s stage costumes and memorabilia.

A Book of Heroes

Autograph album containing signatures of Battle of Britain pilots, £33,600 ($55,035) at Bonhams Oxford on August 2.

A one-of-a-kind autograph album created by Douglas Bader of the RAF. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Winston Churchill once referred to this album as “not a book of names, but a book of heroes—God forbid it should ever be lost.”

Churchill was talking at the time to Douglas Bader, the famous legless fighter ace of World War II whose remarkable story was told in the film Reach for the Sky. Bader’s own signature (seen here) is just one of one hundred and seven signatures of Royal Air Force pilots, many of whom did not survive the Battle of Britain or later combat duties, gathered in 1941 by Norman Phillips, a mess steward at RAF Martlesham Heath.

In makeshift leather covers, apparently made from material cut from the back of a mess chair by Bader, the album contains the signatures of both British pilots and those from Commonwealth countries who served in the RAF, as well those of flyers who made up the specially formed Polish and Czech squadrons and American volunteers who, before the U.S. entered the conflict, had joined up to form the Eagle Squadron.

The album was bought by George Ridgeon, a disabled ex-firefighter who described himself as a “war baby who owes his life to these RAF chaps.”

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