(K. Brent Tomer),
Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. By Christopher de Hamel. Allen Lane; 632 pages; £30.
ON MAY 4th 1945, when Allied troops entered Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps, they discovered devastation—and some very valuable art. Later, American troops would display a selection under an improvised sign reading: “The Hermann Goering Art Collection: Through Courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division”. Among the Rembrandts and Renoirs, few paid much attention to two small, dull, squarish objects. A French officer trod on one, thinking it was a brick; another was scooped up by an army doctor.
That initial diagnosis proved incorrect, though. It was not a brick, but a medieval manuscript (the word means “written by hand”.) The second was one of the most famous manuscripts ever made: a prayer book for a medieval queen that had fetched a record-breaking price at Sotheby’s in London in 1919. This was the “Book of Hours” made for a French queen, Jeanne de Navarre. In “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts” Christopher de Hamel, fellow and librarian of the Parker Library of Corpus Christi…Continue reading