Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby’s Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

In a remarkable showcase of literary history, Sotheby’s New York recently announced the commencement of an unparalleled series of eight auctions, celebrating the exceptional Bibliotheca Brookeriana – the T. Kimball Brooker Library of Renaissance Books and Bindings.

This unparalleled collection, consisting of over 1,300 sixteenth-century French and Italian books, still housed within their original bindings, marks an extraordinary achievement in the world of book collecting. The passionate collector and erudite scholar, T. Kimball Brooker, painstakingly curated this unique assembly over more than six decades.

Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby's Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

With a projected value exceeding $25 million, this unparalleled assortment will make its grand debut at a live evening auction in New York this October. This event marks the resurgence of a dedicated Books & Manuscripts evening auction, a decade after the last one took place.

A Confluence of Rarity and Passion

Unlike any other library outside of Europe, Bibliotheca Brookeriana is a testament to Brooker’s profound and far-reaching collecting prowess. His pursuit encompassed a comprehensive range, acquiring numerous editions and variants of titles, contributing to the distinctiveness of this collection.

An essential hallmark of Bibliotheca Brookeriana lies in the unwavering devotion of T. Kimball Brooker, who tirelessly pursued the finest examples of book bindings, works embellished with emblems and inscriptions from previous owners, and works with impeccable provenance. This pursuit adds layers of historical importance and significance to the collection, creating an intricate tapestry that spans ages and domains, revealing a vivid convergence of art, architecture, and knowledge during the Renaissance era.

Aldine Press: A Jewel in the Collection

Within the remarkable treasury of Bibliotheca Brookeriana shines the most extensive compilation of Aldine Press editions to emerge in a century. Approximately 1,000 volumes, published from the late 1490s to the 1590s, form this exceptional gathering. An assembly of this magnitude is unparalleled, as it stands as the largest privately held assortment of these revered texts.

Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby's Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

Comparable collections reside within esteemed institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; John Rylands Research Institute and Library in Manchester, England; and The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Aldine Press serves as a beacon of innovation, introducing italics and compact book formats akin to contemporary paperbacks. Its legacy exemplifies the enduring nature of books as vital cultural touchstones.

Bindings that Illuminate History

Bibliotheca Brookeriana’s significance extends beyond Aldine’s treasures, encompassing around 450 early printed books with remarkable provenance, harking back centuries to the private collections of nobles and monarchs. This magnificent compilation highlights Sotheby’s origins as a prominent bookseller, with works from the Brooker Collection finding their way into Sotheby’s auctions as early as 1817.

A rich array of topics finds a place within the library’s shelves, ranging from art and architecture to books of French distinction, works exclusively bound in France for foreign readers, Italian and German bindings, and much more.

The Aesthetic Allure of Brooker Library

Distinguished for their opulent and intricate bindings, often adorned with medallions, plaquettes, mottos, cyphers, initials, or coats of arms of previous owners, The Brooker Library extends an invitation not only to collectors but also to enthusiasts of fine art and luxury. The collection is an embodiment of a passion for exquisite aesthetics and ornate craftsmanship, fostering a realm of enthralling beauty.

Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby's Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

As autumn arrives, Bibliotheca Brookeriana: The T. Kimball Brooker Library of Renaissance Books and Bindings embarks on a new chapter. A series of eight dedicated auctions commence with a live evening sale on October 11th, followed by the Aldine edition sale on October 12th, both hosted in New York.

An engaging pre-sale exhibition will be available for public viewing at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from October 5th to 11th. Additional sales are scheduled for both New York and London, continuing through 2025.

The Erudite Scholar-Collector: T. Kimball Brooker

T. Kimball Brooker emerges as a true scholar-collector, immersing himself in bibliophilic pursuits for over six decades. Alongside his dedicated book collecting, he has enjoyed a successful finance career, having served as Managing Director at Morgan Stanley and now presiding as President of the Barbara Oil Company.

Brooker’s academic journey commenced at Yale, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in French literature. His commitment to the book extended to his Harvard Business School MBA thesis, exploring the value of rare books as a hedge against devaluation and inflation. His University of Chicago MA in Art History unveiled insights into binding styles between sixteenth-century Italy and France.

Pursuing a terminal degree in Art History, Brooker’s doctoral dissertation, “Upright Works: The Emergence of the Vertical Library in the Sixteenth Century,” delved into the book’s historical evolution. His passion further led to the establishment of the T. Kimball Brooker Prize, encouraging book collecting among undergraduates at the University of Chicago.

Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby's Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

A Vision Ignited: Brooker’s Path to Collecting

During his studies at Sorbonne in Paris, T. Kimball Brooker chanced upon a remarkable find – a sixteenth-century book in an early vellum binding, adorned with contemporary marginalia. Though a dealer dismissed its value, Brooker’s determination was unwavering. He began collecting, undeterred by initial setbacks. With a tightened budget, he embarked on a quest for treasures, revealing the untold stories woven within these volumes.

Highlights to Enthral

The forthcoming auction in October promises a captivating array of highlights from the Bibliotheca Brookeriana collection. Approximately 90 exceptional works will take the stage, led by exquisite copies of Sebastiano Serlio’s Terzo Libro and Regole generali di architecttura. Notably dedicated to François I, King of France, these texts, printed on distinctive blue paper, are bound in green goatskin, offering a glimpse into the past.

Among the coveted items is a first-edition copy of Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a treasure bound in 1545 for Marx Fugger. Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting, adorned with intricate drawings, further enriches the collection. A remarkable wax-relief portrait of Pope Pius V by artist Giovanni Battista Capocaccia is also featured, providing an artistic masterpiece within the realm of books.

Aldine Press: Legacy and Renaissance Revival

At the heart of Bibliotheca Brookeriana lies an exceptional treasure trove – an extensive group of Aldine Press editions amassed by Aldus Manutius, a renowned bookmaker of the Renaissance era. Aldus‘ legacy reverberates through this collection of around 1,000 volumes published between the late 1490s and 1590s.

These works affectionately referred to as Aldines, played a pivotal role in rekindling the ideals of Renaissance Humanism. Notably, Aldus‘ innovation in printing and formatting revolutionized reading habits, laying the foundation for contemporary paperbacks. The Aldine trademark, a dolphin encircling an anchor, endures as a symbol of enduring significance.

Unveiling the Enigmatic Bindings

The Brooker Collection’s allure extends to its enchanting bindings, with stories interwoven in every detail. French, Italian, and German provenance grace the collection, offering a captivating glimpse into history. A French binding, the first printing of Étienne Charpin’s Ausonius, stands as an exemplar of beauty and craftsmanship.

Rare Renaissance Books: Sotheby's Bibliotheca Brookeriana Auction

The collection also boasts bindings from the library of Bonaccorso Grino and the Pillone family, showcasing Cesare Vecellio’s artistry. German bindings harken to the Fugger family, renowned merchants and bankers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These bindings provide a visual narrative of history, culture, and artistry.

Unearthing Historical Narratives

The Brooker collection emerges as a treasure trove of historical narratives, tracing back centuries to the lives of prominent figures. An intriguing volume from Paolo Giordano Orsini’s library captivates, echoing the mysteries surrounding his life. The collection unveils a fascinating connection between Giordano’s extravagant tastes and the splendour of the Medici court. Books bound in vivid colours mirror his opulent lifestyle, offering a glimpse into a bygone era.

The auction unfurls a tapestry of French, Italian, and German bindings, each representing a unique historical trajectory. French bindings, including Étienne Charpin’s Ausonius, exemplify the fusion of elegance and artistry.

Italian provenance introduces bindings from the Grino and Pillone families, graced by Cesare Vecellio’s touch. Notably, the collection features a volume from the library of Bonaccorso Grino, exemplifying the intersection of art and scholarship. German bindings, deeply entwined with the Fugger family legacy, reflect the dynasty’s affinity for beauty and craftsmanship.

In summation, Bibliotheca Brookeriana stands as a testament to T. Kimball Brooker’s unwavering dedication and unrelenting passion. This exceptional collection brings to light a rich tapestry of history, culture, and artistry, uniting the past and present in a mesmerizing tableau. As the collection enters a new chapter, it invites the world to partake in its enchanting narrative, celebrating the enduring allure of Renaissance books and bindings. The upcoming auctions promise a journey through time, unveiling treasures that resonate across the ages.

Images: Sotheby’s

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