Perth will be home to legendary $15m book

Steve Pennells

One of the international art world's most intriguing mysteries ended last night when Kerry Stokes outed himself as the mystery buyer of one of the most expensive books ever sold.

The fate of the legendary Rothschild Prayerbook - sold at Christie's in New York eight months ago for $15.5 million - has baffled art collectors.

The 500-year-old book of prayers is the most expensive illuminated manuscript in history and considered one of the most important books in existence.

Its purchase by an anonymous bidder in a tense auction in New York in January made international headlines.

While most believed the book had been snapped up by a European collector, it was secretly bought by Mr Stokes and shipped to Perth.

STOKES WAITED FOR RIGHT TIME FOR MASTERPIECE

Until last night, only about a dozen people were aware of its new home.

"I feel a great responsibility," Mr Stokes said, describing the book as the most important piece in his private art collection.

Illuminated manuscripts are books with colourful, often gilded tableaux and decorative borders.

The Prayer Book. Supplied picture


As word broke of the book's new home, former National Gallery of Victoria director Gerard Vaughan said it was possibly the most important piece of art to come to Australia.

The book, considered a renaissance masterpiece, has been hidden or locked away for much of its five centuries, which included time in the possession of the Rothschild dynasty from where it was stolen by the nazis.

Mr Stokes said he planned to put the book on show and believed it would become a "destination piece" with people travelling from around the world to see it in the same way they went to Ireland for the Books of Kells.

"Hopefully this book is one of the reasons in the future people will come to Australia," he said.

"They will come to us and see the various offerings that we have culturally and commercially. But we will have something else to offer that nobody else has and that's the Rothschild Prayerbook."

The Prayer Book. Supplied picture


The book will be lent next year to the National Library in Canberra, followed by the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne.

Perth will be its permanent home.

Mr Stokes is chairman of Seven West Media, which publishes The West Australian.

Former National Gallery of Victoria director Gerard Vaughan said the Prayer Book was possibly the most important piece of art to come to Australia. Supplied picture