An extraordinary history

An exceptional provenance

While the beauty and skillful craftsmanship of King François I’s Book of Hours are absolutely stunning, its fascinating destiny also sets it apart. The book was purchased by François I, probably as a gift to his niece, Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, mother of Henri IV and daughter of the royal patron’s sister, Marguerite d’Angoulême. The work thus appears in the inventory of the queen’s belongings at the Château de Pau in 1561. The book of hours was then inherited by her son, Henri IV. His wife, Marie de' Medici, chose it to embellish her private apartments at the Louvre palace. She kept it until—like many other precious objects in the royal collections—it was acquired by Cardinal Mazarin. The treasures amassed by this great collector were only dispersed in the early 18th century, long after his death in 1661.

Portrait of King François I, by François Clouet

Portrait of King Henri IV, by Frans Pourbus the Younger

Portrait of Cardinal Mazarin, by Pierre Mignard

From France to England

This is the context in which the object passed across the Channel to England, where it still is today. King François I’s Book of Hours was initially listed in the collection of the great art-lover, Robert Mead. Doctor to the King of England and a shrewd collector, he put it on display in his London museum. After his death in 1755, the book of hours was purchased by another famous collector, Horace Walpole, for Strawberry Hill House. It was handed down to his heirs until it was eventually sold in the mid-19th century. This jewel of a prayer book then passed through several hands, notably those of the banker Alfred de Rothschild, director of the Bank of England, before finally becoming the property of S.J. Phillips Ltd., where it has remained since 1942.

Its miraculous destiny is what makes this work so fascinating. The acquisition of such a masterpiece is a chance to recover a unique vestige of the House of Valois’ treasures, which were dispersed over the centuries.

Its miraculous destiny is what makes this work so fascinating.

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