The oversized 'Virgo inter virgines' miniature by Simon Bening that made £1.2m at Sotheby's.

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The stand-out lot in a Sotheby’s (26/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) sale of Continental books, manuscripts and music that closed on December 1 was a miniature on vellum, Virgo inter virgines, that made around five or six times the predicted sum at £1.2m.

Produced in Bruges in the 1530s or 40s, it depicts a whole group of ‘Virgins among Virgins’ in a landscape.

This was a work by Simon Bening, who is widely regarded as the greatest European exponent of the art of illumination – though there were probably contributions by a second artist, said the saleroom.

However, as Sotheby’s acknowledges, this exceptional, 11in (28cm) tall picture, executed on vellum but laid down on wood, was probably never intended to be part of an illuminated manuscript.

The sale also saw £55,000 paid for an illuminated Armenian gospel book of the early 17th century.

Mozart marvels


The title-page of the 1801, first printed score of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni sold by Sotheby’s at £2800.

The musical content of the sale, included several Mozart lots such as, at £13,000, a scribal manuscript score of Leporello and Zerlina’s duet ‘Per queste tue manine’ from what many regard as his greatest operatic achievement, Don Giovanni, at £15,000.

The printed works on offer included an 1801 first printed edition of the opera’s full score.

Published in two volumes by Breitkopf & Härtel of Leipzig, this copy sold at £2800, but in a November 19 sale held by Forum Auctions (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) another example had sold at £4200.

Published in Vienna by Artaria in 1785, a first printed edition of Mozart’s Fantasia & Sonata in C Minor sold for £18,000 at Sotheby’s.

A corrected manuscript of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E-Flat major, Op.12, accompanied by a letter concerning the composition that he sent to violinist Ferdinand David in 1830, realised £22,000.

That letter also touches on the composer’s love for Betty Pistor, to whom he had intended to dedicate the piece before finding that she was engaged to a Berlin lawyer. David later gave the letter to its original intended recipient.

The lot that opened the Sotheby’s sale, an autograph album compiled in the last quarter of the 19th century by Max Kalbeck, a Viennese music critic and biographer of Brahms, sold at £24,000. It contained musical quotations in the hands of Brahms, Puccini, Strauss, Grieg, Saint-Saens and a great many other composers.