The Rothschild Prayer Book, an early sixteenth-century book of hours owned for many years by the famous Rothschild family, was produced during the last great flourishing of manuscript illumination. This Renaissance masterpiece includes paintings of unsurpassed beauty and refined execution by some of the most sought-after Flemish illuminators of the early sixteenth century, including Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening. Among its highlights are splendid paintings of popular saints such as Mary Magdalen, shown with the vase of ointment with which tradition says she anointed Christ. With 67 full-page miniatures, the prayer book is decorated throughout with illusionistic borders strewn with flowers and insects and biblical and mythical characters. Background landscapes and interior settings are rich in realistic detail.
The display takes visitors on a journey from illuminated manuscripts to a printed leaf from Gutenberg’s Bible, via a tenth-century music fragment and the important fourteenth-century Chertsey Cartulary from the Library’s Clifford Collection. The display also coincides with the success of a major fundraising appeal to digitise, conserve and research the Library’s early manuscript treasures. It is a not-to-be-missed experience for lovers of illuminated manuscripts and rare books.
(Picture: National Library of Australia. Beginning of the Office of Prime (detail), fol. 109r, in the Rothschild Prayer Book c. 1505–1510, Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth)