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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Psalter

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.4.24 principally comprises a fully illustrated text of the Psalter (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>6r-35v</a>), datable on art-historical grounds to around 1270-80. In addition, the manuscript contains an incomplete Calendar, showing only the months of March, April, September, October, November and December (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>1r-3v</a>), and thirteen Canticles, which are also incomplete, owing to the loss of the last leaf of the manuscript (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(74);return false;'>35v-38v</a>).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Significant due to the extent and nature of its illustrative programme, the manuscript contains copious decoration, including historiated initials, line fillers and border decoration. Each month of the Calendar is provided with two miniatures, one showing the occupation of the month and the other the signs of the zodiac. Each psalm, likewise, has been given a dedicated illustration depicting some aspect of the psalm's meaning, except for the psalms beginning the seven Nocturnes, which show instead enlarged scenes from the Life of David (see, for instance, the initial showing David and Goliath on f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>6r</a>). An index for the illustrations, possibly contemporary with the manuscript and describing the subject of each miniature in Norman French, has been inserted on a a separate bifolium between the Calendar and the beginning of the Psalms (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(12);return false;'>4v-5v</a>). Throughout the manuscript, there is elaborate marginal and interlinear decoration, comprising birds, animals, fish and hybrid humans and beasts. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Since Samuel Berger's work in the late 19th century, this manuscript has traditionally been discussed as one of a group of French illuminated psalters comprising comprehensive illustrations for each psalm together with explanatory inscriptions. This group, which scholars have added to and subtracted from in subsequent revisions of the corpus, contains, in the most recent discussion of the group (Peterson (2004)), the present manuscript (described as 'The Moore Psalter') and each of the following: <ul><li>'La Charité Psalter' (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>London, British Library, Harley MS 2895</a>), produced c. 1180 </li><li>The Psalter of Jeanne de Navarre (Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS Latin 22), produced c. 1220-1230 </li><li>The de la Morlière Psalter (St. Petersburg, Russian National Library, MS Latin Q. v. I. 67), produced c. 1220-1230 </li><li>The Lewis Psalter (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Philadelphia Free Library, Lewis Collection, European MS 185</a>), produced c. 1230 </li><li>The Bute Psalter (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 46</a>), produced c. 1285 </li><li>The Amiens Psalter (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Paris, Biblothèque nationale de France, MS latin 10435</a>), produced c. 1295 </li></ul></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The precise nature of the relationship between each of the manuscripts in the group remains unclear. Although there are similarities between their iconography and between the rubrics that accompany them, E.A. Peterson has concluded that a model-copy relationship is unlikely: 'the varying compositions of the historiated initials...will not support a clear line of recension for the group'. Rather, subtle differences of detail between each psalter's programme of illumination suggest that the details were left to the discretion of the artist responsible (see Peterson (1997)). This could sometimes result in idiosyncrasies of iconography that make for unique visual interpretations of the Psalter text. For example, the illumination accompanying Psalm 25 is traditionally represented by an eagle flying into a fountain in order to renew its youth; here, instead, it shows instead a flying angel (see f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(23);return false;'>10r</a>). This may have arisen at some point as a consequence of mistranscription by a scribe or misreading by an artist of 'angle' (i.e. angel) for 'aigle' (i.e. eagle), which has informed subsequent iconography in the historiated initials and their description in the rubrics. Indeed, in the index of illustrations the image is accordingly described as 'Li angle ist de fontaine renouelez'. In his 1898 study of some of the manuscripts in this group, Samuel Berger described the rubrics as 'notes pour l'enlumineur'. However, their formal presentation here suggests otherwise, and Peterson has noted that the rubrics here and elsewhere 'function inadequately as descriptions of the subjects in the initials'. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>As a whole, and notwithstanding its current condition, the manuscript remains an impressive object, characterised by innovative visual interpretations of the psalms, intricate decorative details, and a lavish use of colour and gold leaf. Its ownership by two great bibliophiles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - Sir Thomas Knyvett and John Moore - suggests that it has long been valued as an example for its presentation of an unusually full, and illuminated, cycle of psalmic iconography.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Elizabeth Wright<br /> University of York (2015)</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Revised by James Freeman<br />Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br />Cambridge University Library (2024)</p>

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