Everything is illuminated: prayerbook by Europe's 'Greatest Master' could bring $3m

A masterpiece of European illumination will grace the Christie's auction block this week, in a sale that looks set to attract the world's leading manuscript collectors.

On Wednesday July 6 the third part of the Arcana Collection of Exceptional Illuminated Manuscripts will appear at the company's King Street auction room in London.

The highlight of the third sale looks set to be the Imhof Prayerbook, a 16th century illuminated book of prayer once owned by the wealthy Imhof family of Nuremberg.

It was illuminated in both Latin and Dutch by the Flemish artist Simon Bening, described in his lifetime as 'the greatest master in the art of illumination in all of Europe', and is thought to have been completed in 1511.

The Imhof Prayerbook will appear with an estimated value of £1.5 - £2 million

The Imhof family made their fortune in the spice trade, and were patrons to many artists throughout Europe, including the celebrated German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer. The prayerbook is believed to have been commissioned by the merchant banker Hans V, who led his family's business until his death in 1522.

The prayerbook is the earliest dated work recorded by Bening, and is regarded as one of the finest manuscripts of its kind to appear on the market in many years. It will appear at auction with a pre-sale estimate of £1.5 million - £2 million, with many expecting it to exceed this price.

Delicate manuscripts such as prayerbooks and the Books of Hours were amongst the most prized possessions of Europe's wealthy elite during the 15th and 16th centuries. They were personally tailored to their owners, who ranged from royalty and the aristocracy to Bishops and rich patrons, and created using the finest materials.

The Arcana Collection features some of the finest examples to be sold in recent years - the first part of the sale in July 2010 made an impressive £8.16 million, with the second sale in October last year reaching £2.28 million.

With the markets going from strength to strength, this third sale could be set to eclipse both these figures as collectors and investors compete for the finest and rarest examples. And they don't come much finer than the Imhof Prayerbook.


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