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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Missing page found 500 years on
Sforza Hours
The Sforza Hours was commissioned around 1490
A 15th Century Italian Renaissance prayer book valued at 10m has finally been completed after a stolen page was reunited with the rest of the volume.

The intricately illustrated Sforza Hours was commissioned around 1490 but at least three pages were stolen from the illuminator before its completion.

The missing pages were discovered 65 years ago and until this year one remained in private hands.

The British Library paid 191,000 to a private US dealer for the final page.

The book measures just 130mm x 95mm but is considered one of the library's greatest treasures.

It contains an illustrated calendar marking religious days alongside illustrations for each month.


The final page - October - is illustrated with a hunting scene, a typical activity for the time of year.

"The Sforza Hours is one of the greatest illuminated manuscripts," said the the British Library's medieval and earlier manuscripts head, Scot McKendrick,

"The acquisition of the October leaf ends a 500-year odyssey and we are delighted that all parts of the Hours are now reunited at the British Library."

The British Museum was originally left the manuscript in 1893 by Scottish collector John Malcolm and was later passed to the British Library when the two organisations separated in 1973.

The first of the three missing pages was bought in 1941 and the second was sold by New York collector Bernard Breslauer in 1984.

It was thought that no more pages would surface but Mr Breslauer offered the latest page to the British library this year.

Dr McKendrick believes this will be the final page recovered.

Friar blamed

"Given the fame of the book, I'd be pretty astounded if anything else now re-emerged," he said.

Sforza Hours was commissioned by the widow of the assassinated Duke of Milan and worked on by Milan illuminator Giovan Petro Birago, a contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci.

It is not known who wrote the text.

The pages were stolen from the illuminator's workshop, with Birago blaming Friar Johanne Jacopo, saying he "visited me several times and on one time, when I was out of the house, acted fervently and stole the said book".

The incomplete book eventually passed to the niece of the Duke of Milan, Princess Margaret of Austria, who commissioned Flemish painter, Gerald Horenbout, to create duplicates of the missing pages.

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28 Nov 03  |  England

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