Medieval masterpiece saved for the nation

 The Wardington Hours, a lavishly illuminated medieval prayerbook, has been acquired by the British Library following a successful fundraising campaign, and will go on public display tomorrow. The acquisition was supported with a major grant of £250,000 from leading art charity The Art Fund, together with donations from Friends of the National Libraries, Friends of the British Library, and Breslauer Bequest. The richly illustrated manuscript will be exhibited in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, alongside other manuscripts produced by the same workshop.

The Wardington Hours is exquisitely illustrated and intricately detailed, containing a wealth of rich, colourful imagery. Illuminated initials with brightly coloured flowers and leaves on highly burnished gold panels feature throughout, and painted dragons with different animal heads decorate the pages. Eight large painted illustrations of the Passion of Christ, including the Betrayal to the Entombment, are surrounded by fully illuminated borders strewn with gold ivy leaves, delicate flowers and acanthus sprays.

The manuscript was offered for sale by the estate of the late Lord Wardington through Sotheby's in December 2006. It was bought by Hamburg-based dealer, Dr Jörn Günther Antiquariat, for £635,200. A temporary export bar was placed on the item by Culture Minister David Lammy, following a recommendation made by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest to defer the export decision, based on the manuscript's outstanding aesthetic importance. Following this decision the British Library sought funding in order to secure the manuscript.

The Wardington Hours was produced by the Bedford workshop in Paris during the 15th century. Work on the volume had begun in the second decade of the century, but was left unfinished for 20-30 years. In around 1440 it was transformed into an exceptional manuscript by the addition of eight miniatures and beautifully illuminated borders, equal in quality to the very best illumination produced in Paris at this time.

The Wardington Hours will join the Bedford Hours, (one of the most famous and richly illustrated manuscripts in the British Library's collections) in a temporary exhibition entitled The Bedford Hours: Owners and Illuminators, currently on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library until 2 July. This small exhibition will allow visitors to view the Wardington Hours alongside other illuminated manuscripts produced in the Bedford style. After 2 July, the Wardington Hours will remain on display until the end of the year and thereafter will be available to researchers in the British Library's manuscripts reading room.

Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library said: "The Wardington Hours is an inestimably important addition to the British Library's outstanding collection of French illuminated manuscripts in the Bedford style, dating from the first half of the fifteenth century. It is an exceptionally fine manuscript in remarkably fresh condition and the beautiful miniatures, which have retained all their original brilliance, are equal in quality to the very best illumination produced in Paris at this time. The Wardington Hours has always been privately owned and consequently largely unavailable to scholars and researchers. The acquisition by the British Library will ensure that the volume is accessible for future generations."

Source: British Library

first posted LONDON - 28 June 2007 - 537 words

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