Thursday, September 06, 2018

Leaves of a 13th-Century Psalter

Yesterday, Joel illustrated his post about Hophni and Phineas, the wicked sons of the priest Eli, with an image from a 13th century manuscript which is now kept at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. The illuminator of this manuscript, William de Brailes, was an Englishman, active from about 1230-1260; his surviving works include various Bibles and Psalters, and the oldest known English Book of Hours. The manuscript at the Walters is a gathering of 24 illuminated pages from a now-dismembered Psalter, but a great many other similar pages are now lost; seven others are in the Wildenstein Manuscript Collection at the Musée Marmottan in Paris, while the Psalter text is in the National Museum in Stockholm. Here is a selection of the illustrated pages; the whole manuscript can be seen, and a pdf downloaded for free, from the Museum’s website. (All images from Wikipedia; released into the public domain by the Walters Art Museum.)

The first two days of creation, Genesis 1, 1-8
The animals enter the ark, Genesis 7,7 sqq.
The flood, Genesis 7, 11 sqq.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, Genesis 19, 15-26
Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph, Genesis 39, 7-20 (Note the ugliness of her face, and the grimace on the face of the fellow in blue to the left of Joseph.)
Joseph’s cup is found in Benjamin’s sack, Genesis 44, 12 sqq.; Joseph is reconciled to his brothers, chapter 45.
The ninth plague of Egypt, the darkness, Exodus 10, 22-23 
The eight plague of Egypt, the locusts, Exodus 10, 12-15. (In the manuscript as it is currently gathered, the eighth and ninth plagues are out of order.) It would appear that de Brailes had no idea that locusts are just grasshoppers, and was inspired to depict them as small mammals with human heads from the description given in Apocalypse 9, 7: “And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle ... and their faces were as the faces of men.”
The crossing of the Red Sea, Exodus 14, 26-30
The drowning of Pharaoh’s army
Moses brings water from the rock in the desert of Zin, Exodus 17, 1-7
The Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets of the Law, Exodus 32, 1-9 
Hannah praying in the temple, 1 Samuel 1, 9-11; the birth of Samuel, verses 20
Ruth meets Boaz in the field (Ruth 2, 4-16); Ruth sleeping at Boaz’s feet (3, 7-14)
Christ appears to the Disciples at the Lake of Tiberias, John 21
The Ascension, Acts 1-11
Pentecost, Acts 2, 1-11
The Last Judgment, Matthew 25, 31-46
The binding was made in the early twentieth-century, incorporating into the front cover a double-sided ivory carved in the Rhine valley in 14th-century, with the Nativity on one side and the Crucifixion on the other.

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