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‘Missing’ Renaissance manuscript acquired for Rylands

31 Aug 2011

The University of Manchester’s John Rylands University Library has acquired the ‘missing’ seventh volume of a celebrated Renaissance manuscript.

Colonna Missal

The volume is part of the famous Colonna Missal, a magnificent service-book made for use in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. It now joins the six other volumes that have been housed at the John Rylands Library since 1901.

The Colonna Missal, measuring 15 by 11 inches, is one of the most important religious manuscripts of the sixteenth century.

Some of the decoration of the beautifully produced volume dates from exactly the same time as Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment over the High Altar.

It was commissioned by Cardinal Pompeo di Girolamo Colonna for use in some of the most important masses of the year in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

Alexander Lindsay, 25th Earl of Crawford and one of the greatest collectors of the nineteenth century, purchased the six volumes from a London bookseller in 1868 for £1,500.

They passed to the John Rylands Library in 1901, when Enriqueta Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library, acquired thousands of manuscripts belonging to the Lindsay family.

This volume – the seventh volume – led an independent existence for the last century and a half and spent most of that time in the United States.

Most recently, it belonged to the enigmatic owner of the so-called Arcana Collection, who consigned part of his collection of manuscripts to Christie’s on 6 July. Previous owners include Sir Alfred Chester Beatty and Mrs Estelle Doheny.

Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “We are delighted to have secured the missing volume of the Colonna Missal. This is the Library’s most important single-volume acquisition in the last forty years. We could not pass over this opportunity of reuniting all seven surviving volumes of the Missal, which have been separated since at least 1868.

“The restoration of the missing volume greatly enhances the significance of the entire set. For the first time scholars and members of the public will be able to study and appreciate the artistry and structure of all seven volumes and the contributions of the several artists who worked on the manuscript. We are grateful to all the funders who shared our vision of restoring the seventh volume, and who generously helped us to bring it home to Manchester.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “We congratulate the John Rylands Library for having snapped up this missing seventh volume. The public will now be able to appreciate the full set and the history behind it, and we’re delighted that our grant helped make the purchase possible.”

The precious item fetched a total of £188,750 at Christie’s in early July. Funding support was generously provided by the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the John Rylands, the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, and the Friends of the National Libraries.