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Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions announce Sale of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures
Book of Hours (Lot 111, Est £25,000-35,000).

LONDON.- Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions announced their Western Manuscripts and Miniatures auction which will take place on 6th July (11am) at their Bloomsbury base, 24 Maddox Street, London. The auction house is now the only UK auctioneer with a dedicated department and regular sales specialising in Western Manuscripts and Miniatures.

The sale includes an exceptional range of manuscripts dating from the 2nd century BC through to the early 1900s. It includes important papyri (opening with one of the earliest records of Homer's Iliad to survive), an eleventh-century leaf in the fantastically rare Visigothic script and two leaves with illustrations from a copy of the Roman de la Rose, one of the fundamental texts of French literature. Also featuring is an important and extremely early Eastern Hebrew Bible, a document issued in 1392 by Jean, duc de Berry, to acknowledge his nephew's debts run up in bath houses (most probably in debauchery) and a fine Book of Hours from c. 1430-40, with 18 full-page miniatures by the Masters of the Gold Scrolls as well as 11 other medieval codices. The sale further comprises a section of 14 lots featuring animals and rare beasts, with domestic animals such as dogs and rabbits, as well as fantastical beasts, centaurs, dragons and others intended to fascinate or terrify their viewer.

Leading the animal section, is a very large cutting or free-standing sheet of what appears to be a Leucrota. A Leucrota, described as part hyena, part lioness, was believed to have lived in India and to have had the power to imitate human speech. The muted colour scheme, style of painting and the simple orange border indicate the painting is German and dated circa the sixteenth century. The landscape format and content might suggest that it is from a book of fantastical drawings. Alternatively, it may have been executed as part of a series of free-standing depictions of animals for the walls of a patron’s house (Lot 73, Est: £3,000 - £5,000).

Opening the sale is the The Noblecourt Homer Papyrus (Lot 1) which contains lines from the Iliad, song II, in Homeric Greek. These important fragments are from a papyrus scroll from Egypt, probably dating from second century BC. This astonishing piece is one of the earliest surviving witnesses to Homer’s Iliad, most likely written some two centuries before Christ and currently in its twenty-third century of existence. While other important literary papyri have emerged on the market, an example being the fragment of Herodotus, sold by Sotheby’s on 8 December 2009 (lot 37) for £38,000 hammer, Homeric papyri at auction are extremely rare, with only three examples coming to market in living memory. Its provenance is from the Collection of Christiane Desroches Noblecourt (1913-2011), the Egyptologist and prolific scholarly author. Noblecourt was the first female fellow of the Institut Francais d’Archeologie Orientale, and in 1938 was the first woman to lead an archaeological dig. During World War II she joined the French Resistance, hiding the Louvre’s Egyptian treasures in Free France. These fragments were part of her library in the Chateau de Mondemont and carry an estimate of £30,000-£50,000.

The star lot of the sale are four chapters from a Hebrew Bible in codex form on parchment (Lot 45, Est £80,000-120,000). These chapters are Zechariah (Yirmiyahu), Jeremiah (Zechariah), Proverbs (Mishlei) and Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim). Eastern in origin, possibly from Egypt, they date back to the twelfth century, or even to the second half of the eleventh century.

The emergence of any medieval Hebrew manuscript is remarkable, and one from the era of the celebrated Bible scholar Maimonides, a sensation. Due to the reverence which Jewish populations have always given to the Hebrew Bible, only a tiny number of early examples survive, and none before the ninth or tenth century. This is due to the burial of such texts when they become worn out or damaged, and their frequent replacement with later faithful copies. Early Eastern Masoretic codices of the Bible, whether complete or partial, are breathtakingly rare.

‘If the present codex dates to the late eleventh century then it is among the very earliest witnesses to the Hebrew Bible, and its individual readings attest to a previously overlooked Eastern version of the text. If instead it dates to the twelfth century, then it is still among the earliest witnesses but has the distinction among its peers that it may have been in use in Egypt during the crucial period of the history of the Bible when Maimonides (1135-1204) was the head of the Jewish community It is quite overwhelming to think that he may have seen, or even used, this codex.’ (Dr Timothy Bolton, Head of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions).

A notable decorated manuscript featuring in the sale is a fifteenth century Hymnal in Latin on parchment and paper. French in origin, the manuscript stands out as it is complete with a rare Guidonian hand detailed drawing. The Guidonian hand, located in the front of the volume, is a notably rare record of the most important method of teaching medieval music. It takes its name after its probable inventor, Guido da Arezzo (d. after 1033) a music scholar who was assigned the task of training singers for the cathedral of Arezzo. Guido mapped out the joints of the hand as an aid in teaching a hexachord. It appears that the notations here were intended to be copied onto the student’s actual right hand, with this charming diagram intended as a permanent record for a (perhaps) forgetful owner. Such records of the teaching of medieval music are far from common in manuscript. Only one other has come to the open market in living memory, which was sold by Sotheby’s on 8 July 2008 (lot 24) for £27,500. This hymnal carries an estimate of £3,000 - £5,000 (Lot 103).

Another highlight is a striking Book of Hours with Latin text deriving from the Low Countries, c. 1430-40 (Lot 111, Est £25,000-35,000). Made up of 273 leaves, each leaf with an initial is complimented with a gold and coloured text border on the outer edge with an accompanying panel of foliage in gold and coloured leaves and seed pods. It includes a calendar decorated in blue and liquid gold and eighteen full page miniatures, most decorated in gold and colours with details including half-length angels, animal and bird drolleries (decorative thumbnail images in the margins of illuminated manuscripts) and an orange devil (one such opening illustrated above). This exquisite Book of Hours, in superb condition, is from a private English collection and has been passed down through several generations. Furthermore, amongst the margins of its pages you can find the lady it was originally commissioned by. She appears gazing at the Virgin and Child adoringly and then is shown kneeling before the Holy Trinity.

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