University of Melbourne Magazine

Rare prayer book goes on show

  • Exquisite design: Pages from the Rothschild Prayer Book.

    Exquisite design: Pages from the Rothschild Prayer Book.

    One of the world’s most exquisite manuscripts is on display at the University until November 15, 2015.

    The 500-year-old Rothschild Prayer Book is the most expensive illuminated manuscript in history and is considered one of the most important books in existence. 

    The 16th century prayer book is at the centre of a free exhibition, An illumination: the Rothschild Prayer Book & other works from the Kerry Stokes Collection c 1280-1685 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. 

    On loan from the Kerry Stokes Collection, the exhibition contains rare masterpieces of breathtaking beauty and power including the monumental work of Calvary by the Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel the Younger and a fresco of The Last Judgement. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of public lectures and floor talks. 

    The Rothschild Prayer Book was made in the Belgian city of Bruges in the early 1500s. It is lined with gold and contains 67 full-page miniature paintings, each considered a masterpiece. 

    These types of manuscripts were created in monasteries and used by priests and monks for liturgical purposes. They were often commissioned by people of means such as emperors and princes, and in the 13th and 14th centuries private persons bought and used ‘books of hours’, which contained prayers to be recited throughout the day. The Rothschild is one of about 30 remaining illuminated manuscripts made as private worship books in 1500 to 1510. 

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