RELEASE: NEWLY DISCOVERED COPY OF VIRGIL’S OPERA - London, 12 June 2013

On 12 June 2013, Christie’s London will offer a newly discovered, deluxe copy of Opera by Virgil (70-19 B.C.) in the sale of Valuable Printed Books & Manuscripts (estimate: £500,000 – 800,000).

London

On 12 June 2013, Christie’s London will offer a newly discovered, deluxe copy of Opera by Virgil (70-19 B.C.) in the sale of Valuable Printed Books & Manuscripts (estimate: £500,000 – 800,000). The Aeneid is accepted as the foundation stone of western literature, and this copy is the earliest edition a collector could ever aspire to own.

Printed in 1470, within a year of the beginning of printing in Venice, it is the second edition, acknowledged to be textually superior. Its rarity is indicated in the fact that the last copy to come on the market was sold almost a century ago, in 1920. This newly discovered copy is complete and printed on costly vellum for a wealthy patron; the elegance of its page and the hand-painted decoration add to its resemblance to a Renaissance manuscript, and indeed, an earlier owner may have regarded it as a manuscript, perhaps contributing to its true identity not being recognised until now.

This book combines rarity with great aesthetic beauty but also represents a monumental moment in the history of printing.

VALUABLE PRINTED BOOKS

One of the iconic modern books in the sale is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A Triumph, by Thomas Edward Lawrence (1888-1935) (estimate: £50,000 – 100,000). It is one of the ‘incomplete’ copies reserved for personal presentation by Lawrence to his close friends, this copy specially bound in ‘R.A.F.’ blue for air marshal Trenchard. Hugh Trenchard, considered the father of the modern R.A.F., was a powerful figure in Lawrence’s life. The two men met at the Cairo conference, and it was Sir Hugh who arranged for Lawrence, at age 34 and already well known, to enlist among the ranks in 1922 under the assumed name of Ross, and to re-enlist in 1926 after his identity had been revealed and forced his discharge 3 years earlier. Lawrence held Trenchard in extremely high regard and Trenchard continued to act as protector and benefactor throughout Lawrence’s life. This copy is inscribed by the author on flyleaf: ‘Sir Hugh Trenchard from a contented, admiring and, whenever possible, obedient servant’ (illustrated above).  

A rare copy of Brideshead Revisited, the sacred and profane memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) is one of 50 copies printed for the author for presentation in a pre-publication edition (estimate: £18,000 – 25,000, illustrated left). This copy was presented to Sir Fitzroy Maclean, the soldier, writer, and politician, who is considered to be an inspiration to Ian Fleming for the character of James Bond.

AUTOGRAPH LETTERS

Highlighting a diverse selection of autograph letters and manuscripts is the unpublished handwritten journal of W.H. Auden (1907-1973) (estimate: £40,000 – 60,000, illustrated right). The journal, beginning in September 1939, is one of only three he is known to have kept, and was widely believed to have been lost. Auden started this journal as ‘a discipline for my laziness and lack of observation’ on his return to New York from California after ‘the eleven happiest weeks of my life’ in the honeymoon period of his relationship with Chester Kallman. He opens with a brief inventory of his present state: ‘At 32 ½ I suppose I shall not change physically very much for some time except in weight which is now 154 lbs ... I am happy, but in debt ... I have no job. My visa is out of order. There may be a war. But I have an epithalamion to write and cannot worry much’. Providing an incomparable insight into the poet’s activities and reflections at the turning point in his life, this is the most substantial and significant Auden manuscript ever to have been offered at auction.

A telegram sent by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) marks the moment when, electrified by hearing of the February Revolution in Russia, news of which reached him on 15 March 1917, Lenin immediately began plotting his return from exile in Switzerland, a task which was significantly complicated by the hostile status of the intervening countries of Germany and Austro-Hungary (estimate: £20,000 – 30,000, illustrated left). The telegram, which announces Lenin’s departure for Russia was sent on 6 April 1917 to French socialist Henri Guilbeaux in Geneva under Lenin’s birth name, Ulaynov. Lenin reached Petrograd on 16 April and within six months in the wake of the October Revolution, Lenin was to be the master of the Russian empire.

ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPTS

From medieval choir book leaves to the 19th-century painted letters of William Burges, the illuminated manuscripts are strikingly diverse, ranging in scope from monastic codices to lavishly illuminated Books of Hours and dazzling cuttings and leaves by artists like Bartolomeo Neroni, the Mazarine Master and the Master of the Murano Gradual. Of greatest rarity is a unique compilation of texts and translations by some of the most important 14th-century English mystical authors (estimate: £100,000 – 150,000, illustrated right). The manuscript, which has never been seen at auction, has an unbroken provenance within a single ancient English family from before 1540, with more than sixty of their family records inscribed on the flyleaves. These rare English medieval texts are offered in their original binding.

Further highlights include The Book of the Fraternity of the Holy Spirit of Billerbeck, illuminated in Germany at the end of the 15th century (estimate: £70,000 – 100,000). It is the earliest surviving record of the formation and activities of an important German fraternity.

A collection of illuminated letters and drawings by William Burges, the leading 19th-century gothic revivalist architect and designer, are his earliest known surviving works, illuminated when he was just 13 years old (estimate: £7,000 – 9,000, illustrated left). They provide a charming and intimate insight into the tastes and budding aesthetic of one of the greatest Victorian architects.

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