Czech officials buy rare 15th century miniature at Sotheby’s auction

Photo: CTK

Officials from the Central Bohemian region bought a rare 15th century miniature at auction at Sotheby’s in London on Tuesday. The artwork, depicting silver mining in the Bohemia town of Kutná Hora, eventually went for over half a million pounds sterling, and is set to be the most important piece at a newly established gallery there.

Photo: CTK
Officials from the Central Bohemian region made the Czech Republic’s art deal of the decade on Tuesday when they bought a 15th century frontispiece for a record 510,000 pounds sterling at auction at Sotheby’s in London. Milan Kocourek is Czech Radio’s correspondent in the UK; he followed the bidding at the famous auction house.

“It was fairly tense, and dramatic as well. There were about four or five people bidding but at the end, the Central Bohemian Gallery won. The bidding almost stopped well before 500,000, and then it just went over half a million which was quite dramatic.”

Sotheby’s said the miniature was one of the most remarkable pieces of its kind that they had ever auctioned, and one of the largest and most significant secular illuminated miniatures of all time. It was made in Bohemia in late 15th century for a choral book of one of the churches of Kutná Hora. The panoramic frontispiece depicts scenes of silver mining and processing in the town, an important mining centre of the Czech lands of the time.

David Rath
Central Bohemian governor David Rath and the director of the Central Bohemian Gallery in Kutná Hora flew to London this morning. After the auction, Mr Rath said he was not disappointed by the fact his region is paying five times more than the starting price of 100,000 pounds.

“I think it’s a great success for the whole of Bohemia, for the town of Kutná Hora as well as for the Central Bohemian region.”

The authorities will have to reach much deeper into their pockets than originally expected. The final price of the miniature, with all fees included, amounted to over 610,000 pounds. Some have criticized Governor Rath for having publicly announcing the region’s interest in buying the rare miniature before setting off for London. Jiří Fajt is a leading Czech expert on Medieval art.

Kutná Hora, photo:
“I think this miniature is really very important in the context of Bohemian art, and of course for the town of Kutná Hora. It depicts the mining industry in the Middle Ages, silver mounts and so on. But what’s astonishing is the way how the region’s officials wanted to acquire the miniature.”

After the miniature, which governor Rath described as Central Bohemia’s Mona Lisa, arrives in the Czech Republic, it will be examined by experts. Then it will become perhaps the most significant artefact in the region’ gallery in Kutná Hora, the town where it was made some 600 years ago. Experts warn, however, that due to its fragile condition, it will be only possible to display it for three months at a time.