This Gothic coffer is one of the largest-surviving examples of a type of box used to transport precious books.

Leather straps may have been attached to the metal bands on the outside for ease of handling and there is a lock to protect the contents. Among the sources of identification for the purpose of such boxes is a painting of the Christian subject ‘Rest on the Flight into Egypt’, made in Antwerp c1530, which shows a similar coffer partially opened to show a small leatherbound book. Attached to the inside of the lid is a woodcut (pictured). The subject is ‘God the Father in Majesty’, a print derived from an earlier work by the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany, created for a Missal (the book containing texts used in Catholic Mass) printed in Paris in 1491. Other book coffers from this period contain prints in the same position, suggesting that such boxes may also have functioned as travelling altars. The Bodleian has outstanding holdings of early printed books, but this is the first coffer to enter the library’s collection. Further research can now be undertaken into its history and use.

Provenance

Private collection, Burgundy; M. Bernard Rousset, Macon; collection of Marie-Therese and Andre Jammes; sold at auction, Pierre Berge, Paris, 7 November 2007, lot 16; where acquired by the dealer Les Enluminures. The Art Loss Register has certified that


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