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[BKARTS] Renaissance Book Complete at Last

Renaissance Book Complete at Last 

By Sherna Noah, Arts Correspondent, PA News 

One of the most famous books to come out of the Italian Renaissance, The
Sforza Hours, has finally been completed ? more than 500 years after its

The book of Christian private devotions was commissioned around 1490, and
took around 20 years to complete, but just before it was finished three of
its highly-prized pages were stolen from the illuminator?s workshop.

The missing leaves only resurfaced about 65 years ago and one of them has
remained in private hands ? separated from the illuminated manuscript ? ever

Now the British Library has purchased the last stolen page of the parchment
book, meaning that the treasure can be seen in its complete form for the
first time.

The item consists of an illustrated calendar, marking the religious days and
depicting scenes from the month, and a prayer book.

The British Museum purchased one of the missing leaves, a scene of the
adoration of the Kings from the prayer book, in 1941.

The book was passed from the British Museum to the British Library in 1973,
and the Library bought the second page, a scene from the calendar month of
May, in 1984.

The third missing leaf shows a stunning illuminated miniature of a hunting
scene ? the seasonal activity for October.

The book itself only measures around 130mm x 95mm (5in x 3.75in) but is
estimated to be worth around £10 million and is one of the Library?s finest

It was owned by two of the richest and most powerful women of the age and
illustrated by two of the greatest artists of the period.

The manuscript was commissioned by Bona of Savoy, whose husband, Galeazzo
Sforza, Duke of Milan, had been assassinated.

While the Milanese illuminator Giovan Pietro Birago, a contemporary of
Leonardo da Vinci, was working on the finishing touches, the pages were
stolen from his workshop.

Birago blamed the Friar Johanne Jacopol, saying he ?visited me several times
and on one time, when I was out of the house, acted fervently and stole the
said book?.

He wrote a letter to the Friar asking for the return of the work, but his
request was ignored, and the leaves had by then probably been passed on.

In 1519, the manuscript passed into the hands of Bona?s niece, the Hapsburg
Princess Margaret of Austria and Regent of the Netherlands.

She arranged for duplicates of the missing pages to be made by her own
Flemish court painter, Gerald Horenbout.

Dr Scot McKendrick, the Library?s head of medieval and earlier manuscripts,
said: ?The Sforza Hours is one of the greatest illuminated manuscripts.

?The acquisition of the October leaf ends a 500-year odyssey and we are
delighted that all parts of the Hours are now reunited at the British

He said: ?We don?t know who the scribe was but the art is of an extremely
high level and now we have the original and replacement leaves.

?The stolen leaves were replaced by some of the finest Flemish miniature
paintings of the time, so we have a high Renaissance Italian book of words
with sumptuous Flemish illustrations.?

The Library has paid £191,000 to a private dealer in Chicago for the page, a
figure which includes a £131,000 grant from the National Art Collections

The manuscript was given to the British Museum in 1893 by the Scottish
collector John Malcolm of Poltalloch and was passed to the British Library
when it separated from the museum in 1973.

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