Major Art Fund grant for unique medieval manuscript

The Art Fund has helped the British Library to secure a spectacular 15th-century illuminated manuscript known as the Wardington Hours.

The manuscript was export-stopped after being sold at Sotheby’s last year, and has now been bought by the British Library with an Art Fund grant of £250,000. The total cost was £635,200.

The Hours is now on display at the British Library – only the second time that it has been exhibited in a public institution in modern times. It was formerly owned by the late Lord Wardington, a leading English bibliophile and collector who died in 2005.

The book was produced in Paris, the most important centre of manuscript illumination in Europe in the 15th century. Work on the Wardington Hours started in c.1410 but the manuscript was left unfinished for 30 years, when its eight brilliantly coloured images, dating from c.1440, were produced, transforming it into a truly exceptional work.

A Book of Hours is a book of Christian prayers for recitation at different times of the day. Made for individual use at home, they were written in Latin, the language of the medieval church, and designed around the eight periods of daily prayer observed by priests and nuns.

Not a complete Book of Hours in itself, the Wardington Hours comprises the relatively rare Hours of the Passion (also known as the Long Hours of the Cross) – the eight paintings illustrate the story of Christ’s final moments before his crucifixion.

The manuscript is on display alongside the Bedford Hours, also purchased with The Art Fund’s help, in the British Library’s current exhibition The Bedford Hours: Owners and Illuminators, in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. After the exhibition closes on 2 July it will remain on display until the end of the year.

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