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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Psalter (fragments)

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p> Add. 4085 consists of 74 separate leaves from a psalter, bound in complete disarray. The psalter is incomplete. </p><p> The psalter is believed to have been made in French Flanders around 1300 (Ringrose 2009, 136-137; Binski and Zutshi 2012, no. 370, 342-343). M.R. James supposedly remarked on the similarity between its decoration and that of <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''> Cambridge, Trinity College B.11.22</a> (James 1900, no. 261, 365-373). Both manuscripts contain copious marginal decoration and grotesques in similar style and some similar motifs. See for example the plate spinner on Add. 4085 <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(49);return false;'>fol. 21r</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>B.11.22 fol. 6r</a> ; the sword balancing act on Add. 4085 <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(109);return false;'>fol. 51r</a> and <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>B.11.22 fol. 214r</a> ; and various different animals and creatures throughout both manuscripts. </p><p> Some antiphons are added in the margins in an early seventeenth century hand. The additional text in French on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(75);return false;'>fol. 34r</a> suggests that the book was not yet fragmented and rebound at the time of writing. </p><p> It is not clear whether the separate fragments were already bound in this way before its current early nineteenth century binding by James Hayday. All seventy-four leaves are bound in complete disorder, making the psalms and canticles illegible from page to page. Almost all of the folios in the manuscript are decorated. It seems that these folios, kept together as surviving fragments from one manuscript, served as a kind of curiosity or specimen. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, manuscripts were seen as historical 'curiosities' of a foregone era. Medieval books were often cut up to serve as samples for studying script and decoration. (Hindman a.o. 2001, 5-101) </p><p> With the rebinding of the Add. 4085 fragments, the psalter text drew the shorter straw. Especially the focus on the two historiated initials on the first two folios (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>fol. 1r</a> and <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(11);return false;'>fol. 2r</a>) shows that the decoration was probably particularly valued. In some cases we can see pencil tracing of decoration that shines through to the other side of the folium (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(115);return false;'>fol. 54r</a> and other folia). This may indicate that the psalter was indeed used to study the forms and shapes of the marginal decorations. </p><p> In 1840 the book was bought by Thomas Bateman, an amateur archeologist and antiquarian. His collection included a library of ancient manuscripts, early illuminations and rare books. In an article discussing some of Bateman’s fragments (now Cambridge UL, Add. 4166), Rebecca Rushforth identifies a traced facsimile of a now lost Old English prayer. The traced facsimile was probably made by Bateman himself, suggesting an elevated interest in the medieval forms. This accords with his collection habits and his strong interest in medieval decoration and script (Rushforth 2004, 112-113). In accordance with Rushforth’s article, I tentatively suggest that Bateman may be the culprit who traced the decoration in Add. 4085. When Thomas Bateman died in 1861 he left his collections to his son, who sold his father’s prized items in an attempt pay off his debts (Rushforth 2004, 113-114). </p><p> Samuel Sandars, lawyer and bibliophile, bought the little book in 1893 at the Sotheby’s auction of the Batemans’ library. Sandars also appreciates the decorations in Add. 4085, describing them as "a very fine style of art" (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(6);return false;'>flyleaf</a>). Unfortunately Sandars hardly had any time to spend with it since he died one year later. After his death he bequeathed “all books [from Sandars’ library] printed on vellum or satin of any date whatsoever, also all other books relating to the arts of bibliography,  palaeography, binding or typography excepting books bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam” to the University Library in Cambridge (Defrance 2014). It is quite possible that he bought the book especially for the Cambridge University Library collection.</p><p> William Morris, mentioned as the underbuyer for Add. 4085, is famous for his fascination with medieval decorated books and praised them for their extraordinary beauty and the invention of the ornament (Hindman a.o. 2001, 173-175). Though Sandars did not "let him have it" (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(6);return false;'>flyleaf</a>), Add. 4085 would have perfectly fit his collection of gothic manuscripts. Instead it made its way to the Cambridge University Library. </p></p>

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