Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Two Royal Psalters

One of the things that always impresses me in the study of the liturgy is the continuity which one can see over enormous distances in time, and here is a small but interesting example. The first set of pictures is taken from a Psalter made in the palace of Charles the Bald, a grandson of Charlemagne who ruled as King of the Western Franks from 840-77, and Holy Roman Emperor for the last 2 years of his life. The name of the copyist and illuminator, Liuthard, is known from his signature at the end of the manuscript: “Hic calamus facto Liuthardi fine quievit. – Here the pen of Liuthard rested when the end was reached.” An invocation is added to the Litany of the Saints, “that Thou may deign to preserve our spouse Ermentrude,” which dates the manuscript between their marriage in 842, and her death in 869.

The wooden covers are mounted with cabochons in metal frames, surrounding carved ivory plaques; the plaque on the front represents God protecting the soul of King David from various adversities. (Bibliothèque National de France, Département des Manuscrits, Latin 1152)
King David, with four of the other persons named by the titles of the Psalms as their authors, Asaph, Heman, Ethan and Idithun.
A portrait of Charles the Bald, with the hand of God reaching down to bless him. The inscription at top reads, “Since Charles sits crowned in great honor, he is like Josiah, and the equal of Theodosius.”
“The noble translator and priest Jerome, being nobly able, transcribed the laws of David.” The tradition of showing St Jerome as a cardinal has of course not yet arisen in the 9th century, and he is here shown as a Benedictine monk.
“The Book of Psalms begins.”
A lavishly illuminated B at the beginning of the first Psalm, “Beatus vir” in Latin.
Psalm 26, the first Psalm of the nocturn of Monday Matins, which begins with the words “Dominus illuminatio mea.” The very elaborate illuminated initials are placed at the beginning of each day’s nocturn.
Each page has a purple border on the left, with the first letter of each verse inside it; the border also extends into the page to contain the titles of the Psalms. In this case, Psalm 50 is not part of the nocturn, but gets an illuminated initial because of its prominence as the first Psalm of Lauds on ferial days. (The good Liuthard made a mistake here, writing “et Bethsabee” instead of “ad Bethsabee.”)
At the end of the nocturns, some of the chapters, short responsories and versicle of the Hours are also included.
Psalm 68, the first of the nocturn of Thursday, “Salvum me fac Deus.”
The Biblical title of Psalm 101 is given its own special decoration, which is the only thing on the page: “The prayer of the poor man when he shall be anxious, and pour forth his prayer to the Lord.” The preceding page contains a brief poetic epigram, “May the King of kings grant peace and salvation to Charles”; this Psalm was evidently one of the king’s favorites... 
and is therefore also given an illuminated initial.
The ivory plaque on the back cover shows the episode of Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11-12, which is mentioned in the title of Psalm 50. Bathsheba and David are together in the palace at the upper left and middle, with the prophet Nathan on the right at the city gate, and the dead Uriah at their feet. In the lower part is the story of the poor man and his sheep, by which Nathan confronts David with his crimes.
The images that follow come from another Psalter (BnF, Département des manuscrits, Latin 774), made six hundred years later for Charles VIII, nicknamed “the Affable”, who succeeded to the throne of France in 1483 at the age of 13. For a sense of chronological perspective, Charles the Bald lived closer in time to the Roman Emperor Theodosius, whom he clearly admired, than he did to this man, and yet we see the same liturgical psalter still in use, and the same custom of placing the decorations at the beginning of the nocturns. (This Charles died without issue in 1498 at the age of 27, after bashing his head against the lintel of a door.)

The beginning of the Psalter: King Charles kneels in prayer in the company of King David. The psalter is written in Latin in larger letters, with an interlinear French translation in red.
The illustrations are limited to the beginning of the nocturns and of Sunday Vespers; most of the pages look like this.
The nocturn of Monday, beginning with Psalm 26, “The Lord is my enlightenment”; King David looks up to God, who is surrounded by rays of light.
The nocturn of Tuesday, beginning with Psalm 38, “I said: I will take heed to my ways that I sin not with my tongue. I have set guard to my mouth.” King David looks up to God and points at his own mouth.
The nocturn of Wednesday, beginning with Psalm 52, “The fool said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” King David and a fool from a royal court; while David looks once again up to God, the fool looks at an image of himself on the end of his mock-scepter.
The nocturn of Thursday, beginning with Psalm 68, “Save me, o God, for the waters are come in even unto my soul.” King David stands up to his waist in water; he has laid aside his harp for swimming, but, as royals do, has kept on his crown.
The nocturn of Friday, beginning with Psalm 80, “Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant psaltery with the harp.” King David playing bells.
The nocturn of Saturday, beginning with Psalm 97, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” King David stands behind a group of monks singing from a choir book on a lectern.
Psalm 109, the first of Sunday Vespers, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.”

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