July 14, 2016

Got a spare £8 million lying about? Then you could snap up the jewel-studded book of hours–bargain!



François’s book of hours, in a publicity photo published by the UK’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport. Via www.gov.uk.

A rare, jewelled prayer book that once belonged to by King François I of France and has been in UK collections since 1720 could be leaving the country. Art experts are in despair after a foreign buyer purchased the book for £8 million. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the book, hoping to find a UK buyer with a cool £8 million lying around to block the foreign sale.

The book—one of the most expensive ever made—is a book of hours, a style of Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages, containing a collection of prayers, psalms, and texts. François I’s book has a gold-enamelled cover studded with precious jewels including rubies, turquoise, and tourmaline, and contains twenty lavish illustrations painted on parchment. It’ll look lovely on a coffee table.

François I of France - Jean and François Clouet (c.1535, oil on panel) (Louvre).

Portrait of François I by Jean and François Clouet, c.1535, oil on panel. Via Wikipedia.

François I, who lived from 1494 to 1547, was a supporter and patron of the arts. He commissioned several Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, to work on the Château de Chambord, easily recognizable for its characteristic French Renaissance architecture. The king went on to acquire the Mona Lisa, which da Vinci had brought with him to Chambord. It became a cornerstone of his impressive art collection, which would one day form the basis of the Louvre museum. The book of hours has since passed through numerous hands, including François’s sister Marguerite d’Angoulême, Henri IV, Cardinal Mazarin, and Horace Walpole.

Vaizey said, in the official Department for Culture press release:

This exceptional book provides us with a rare glimpse into the royal courts of 16th century Renaissance France and is of outstanding scholarly value. I hope that this unique book remains in the UK for the public to enjoy.

The decision to bar the export was reached following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council. RCEWA member Peter Barber said:

Such splendidly bound manuscripts set the European standard and Henry VIII is recorded as owning very similar books. They are now only known through mentions in inventories. The British public now has the chance to keep this unique surviving example, a European masterpiece in miniature, in the United Kingdom and available for display and study by future generations.

You have until October 11th to put in your proposal, and possibly until April 11th, 2017 to finally scrape together the funds. Start raiding the piggy banks…



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.