London, Oct. 1: The British Library has resolved a crime that took place 500 years ago in medieval Italy by buying an illuminated page and reuniting it with the book from which it was removed by a light-fingered monk in the 1490s.
The feat, described by scholars yesterday as extraordinary, makes complete ' or as complete as it ever will be ' the library's Sforza Book of Hours. Conservatively valued at '10 million, it is illuminated by an artist who was better thought of in his day than Leonardo da Vinci, and is one of the greatest treasures in the library's manuscripts department.
The lost page, bought with '50,000 contributed by the British taxpayer, boasts a picture of a glorious 'two nations' hunting scene. In the foreground, two 'toffs', a man and a woman, clearly well born, ride out with hawks on magnificent steeds while labourers toil in the background gathering the grape harvest.
The Book of Hours ' a volume of psalms, prayers and a calendar ' was commissioned by Duke Galaezzo Maria Sforza of Milan for his wife, Bona of Savoy, in 1490.
The Duke wanted the best craftsmanship and turned not to Leonardo, who had recently painted his Virgin on the Rocks altarpiece in Milan, but to the celebrated miniaturist Giovan Pietro Birago.
Birago was paid 500 ducats ' five times the fee Leonardo received for the altarpiece ' and produced a book of more than 350 pages, including 64 full-page miniatures and 140 text pages filled with small miniatures and margins bursting with Renaissance ornament.
Birago also left behind a letter to Bona complaining that as he was completing his task one Johanne Jacopo, a friar from the Convent of San Marco in Milan, stole 28 of the illuminated pages, including all 12 of the 'calendar illuminations', each one illustrating a month of the year.