New York Philanthropists’ $8 M. Rare Books Collection Heads to Auction

A collection of rare illuminated manuscripts from the Medieval and Renaissance eras owned by the late New York philanthropists Elaine and Alexander Rosenberg will go under the hammer at Christie’s this April in New York. Together, the 17 manuscripts and more than 200 Renaissance printed books represented in the sale are expected to fetch $8 million.

Many of the most coveted items in the auction will be illuminated manuscripts, some of which were made for private patrons. “This ranks among the best collections of illuminated manuscripts in private hands at the moment to be offered at auction in the last 50 years,” said Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s senior specialist of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.

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The top lot of the collection is a French illuminated manuscript attributed to the anonymous artist known as the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus. Titled the Parisian Book of Hours (ca. 1440) and comprising 16 miniature paintings, the book is expected to sell for a price between $1.5 million–$2.5 million. The book’s artist, who also worked also as a frescoist, is believed to be responsible for The Triumph of Death, a wall painting in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, as well as the Devonshire tapestries in the Victoria and Albert Museum. “We see many of those kind of influences across different media in this manuscript,” said Donadoni of the present lot.

“He’s a fascinating artist because he was incredibly versatile,” Donadoni said. Emphasizing the book’s “pristine” condition and its formidable provenance—it was owned at various points by Earl of Ashburnham, 19th-century collector Henry Yates Thompson, and painter and dealer Charles Fairfax—Donadoni added, “This is the best work by him, full stop.” The last time it was bought was in 1997, when the Rosenbergs acquired it for $200,000—meaning that its value has more than quintupled since then.

No collecting category sees works quite as rare as the one devoted to books and manuscripts. Yet, despite the lack of prime examples on the market, it is unusual for such works to achieve seven-figure numbers at auction. (The record for a book at auction was set in 2012, when a printed Bay Psalm Book went for $14.2 million at Sotheby’s. Christie’s holds the record for an illuminated manuscript—the Rothschild Prayer Book sold there for $13.6 million in 2014 to Australian billionaire Kerry Stokes.) The market for rare books peaked in the 1990s, but Christie’s is seeing a recent revival in the market for such items, with many works being sold above estimate in the house’s London “Classic Week” series in July. The Rosenberg sale may spur new attention.

Other highlights set to go up for sale include the Bedford Master’s The Hours Of Anne De Neufville, Use Of Paris (ca. 1430), which is expected to sell for $1 million–$1.5 million, and a Roman Book of Hours from the same century attributed to the Master of Jean De Mauléon. That work is expected to reach a price of $800,000–$1 million. Among the top printed books coming to sale is a first-edition Plato translated by scholar Marsilio Ficino and printed by the nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli in 1484–85. It is valued at an estimated of $200,000–$400,000.

Together with her husband, art dealer Alexander Rosenberg, who died in 1987, philanthropist Elaine Rosenberg put together the collection over several decades. In addition to her collecting, Elaine, who died in January of last year, was known for her pursuit of the restitution of around 400 works of art confiscated by Nazis from her late husband’s father, the prominent French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. In many cases, the Rosenberg family proved successful.

Elaine was known for her work with museums, serving as a fellow of the Morgan Library and a benefactor to the Museum of Modern Art, as well as to the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2007, she donated the Paul Rosenberg Archives to MoMA; included in it is a trove of the dealer’s documents cataloguing his extensive collection, which was used to restitute around 60 of his looted works to his descendants. In 2008, she gave the Prayer Book of Claude de France to the Morgan Library.

Per the collector’s will, all proceeds from the auction will benefit select museums to support of their rare book collections. Christie’s has yet to announce the names of institutions which will receive sale proceeds, but a representative said some of the museums are based in New York.


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