14-02-03-2127NE0XA  Rothschild Prayerbook.jpg
The Rothschild Prayerbook that sold for $12m (£7.55m) at Christie’s New York.

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Part of their 'Renaissance' sale on January 29, a separately catalogued auction which was held on the same day as their main Old Master auction, it was knocked down at the lower end of its $12m-18m estimate. The reported buyer was a private collector bidding on the phone.

In sterling terms, the price was less than the sum it had fetched when it last sold at auction for £7.8m at Christie's in London in July 1999 although the premium-inclusive price in dollars was higher.

Back then it had been offered as part of the prestigious sale of the collections of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild and was believed to have been purchased by a private European buyer with underbidding coming from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The 1999 price still holds the auction record for any illuminated manuscript although the highest price seen for any type of manuscript overall is the $28m (£17.5m) paid by Bill Gates for Leonardo da Vinci's 'Codex Leicester' which sold at Christie's New York in November 1994.

Flemish Renaissance

The Rothschild Prayerbook itself features 150 pages and miniatures which collectively are regarded as one of the finest achievements of the Flemish Renaissance. They were produced by the leading masters of illumination of Ghent or Bruges around c.1505 after being commissioned by a prominent member of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands.

The manuscript was later bought by Baron Anselm von Rothschild in either the late 1860s or early 1870s and remained in the family until it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1938. It was returned to the Rothschild family by the Austrian government in 1999, shortly before the auction in the same year.

The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.

£1 = 1.59