The owners of the book of hours
Its remarkable provenance also sets this book of hours apart. The manuscript owes its extraordinary history to the people whose hands it passed through—François I, Henri IV, Cardinal Mazarin—before making its way to England in the early 18th century. Discover the faces of its owners!
François I (1494–1547)
François I, King of France, by Jean Clouet © Musée du Louvre
King François I purchased this book of hours from the jeweler Allart Plommyer on January 2, 1538. This was the date on which it appeared in the sovereign’s expenses in the following terms: “Ung livre d’heures escript en parchemin enrichy de rubis et turquoises couvert de deux grandes cornalynes et garny d’un rubis fermant à la fermeture d’icelleluy” [“A book of hours written on parchment enriched with rubies and turquoises covered with two large cornelians and adorned with a ruby clasp”].
Jeanne d’Albret (1528–1572)
Portrait of Jeanne d’Albret, by Jean Clouet © Musée du Louvre
François I then gave this treasure to his niece, Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre (1528–1572) and mother of Henri IV. It was listed in the inventory of her belongings at the Château de Pau in 1561: “Une paire d’heures garnyes d’or, le couvercle de cornaline gravée d’une sainte Barbe, d’un costé, et d’une sainte Catherine(…), enrichy de rubis et turquoyses (…), ung Crucifix ung saint Françoys et ung saint Hyérosme sur le dos du livre (…), fermé d’un gros rubis” [“A pair of hours adorned with gold, the cover of cornelian engraved with St. Barbara next to St. Catherine… enriched with rubies and turquoises… a Crucifix and St. Francis and St. Jerome on the back of the book… with a large ruby on the clasp”].
Henri IV (1553–1610)
Henri IV, King of France (reigned 1589–1610), Dressed in Black, by Frans Pourbus the Younger © Musée du Louvre
On Jeanne d’Albret’s death in 1572, the masterpiece was inherited by Henri IV, King of France and Navarre. It is listed in the Inventaire des objets rares et riches orfèvreries from the Foix, Albret, Alençon and Bourbon estates drawn up at Fontainebleau in 1601-02: “Livre d’or où sont enchasés aux deux costez deux grandes cornalines et en la fermeture d’icelle un grand rubis cabochon…” [“Golden book inlaid on both sides with large cornelians and a large ruby cabochon on its clasp…”]
Marie de' Medici (1553–1610)
Portrait of Marie de’ Medici, by Marie-Victoire Jaquotot © Musée du Louvre
In 1604, Henri IV’s wife, Marie de' Medici, chose it to embellish her private study at the Louvre palace. She kept this book of hours, together with other precious objects from the royal collections, until it was acquired by Cardinal Mazarin.
Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661)
Cardinal Mazarin, by Pierre Mignard © RMN-Grand Palais (domaine de Chantilly) / Harry Bréjat
Having formerly belonged to the family of Henri IV, this Renaissance jewel passed into Cardinal Mazarin’s collections, where it was duly recorded in an inventory drawn up after his death in 1661: “Un autre livre d’heures en petit volume escript sur velin avec figure de mignature couvert d’or, enrichy de deux carnalines gravées sur les deux couvercles et de rubis et tourquoises estimé 200 l” [“Another small book of hours written on parchment with miniature figures illuminated in gold, enriched with two engraved cornelians on the two covers and rubies and turquoises, estimated value 200 livres”].
Richard Mead (1673–1754)
Richard Mead, by Allan Ramsay © National Portrait Gallery, London
In the early 18th century, the book of hours left France to join the collection of Richard Mead, a renowned British doctor and great art-lover. François I’s treasure was exhibited in his London museum until the death of its owner in 1754.
Horace Walpole (1717–1797)
Horace Walpole, by John Giles Eccardt © National Portrait Gallery, London
The famous collector Horace Walpole purchased the book of hours on Richard Mead’s death and mentioned it specifically in his description of his villa, Strawberry Hill House, in 1784. He placed it in the Tribune, amongst the most valuable treasures in his collection: “A magnificent missal with miniatures by Raphael, and adorned with rubies and turquoises: the sides are cornelians, engraved with religious subjects, the clasp a large garnet.” The work subsequently entered the collection of his great-niece, Elizabeth Laura, Countess Waldegrave, was then left to her descendants before being sold in 1842.
Alfred de Rothschild (1842–1918)
Alfred de Rothschild © Farabola/Leemage
Alfred de Rothschild then purchased the book of hours and later handed it on to his daughter Almina Herbert, Countess of Carnarvon (1876–1969). The work was then sold at Christie’s, London, on May 19, 1925. Having passed through several hands, this Renaissance jewel was sold for the last time in London, on March 26, 1942, to Martin Norton (of S.J. Philips Ltd.).