Thursday, June 09, 2022

An Illuminated Psalter of the 13th Century

Here is another wonderful discovery from the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, an illuminated psalter from the beginning of the 13th century. (Département des manuscrits. NAL 1392) The manuscript begins with 13 pages of images of the life of Christ, each within a circular medallion, two per page, enclosed in a rectangular decorative border; these cover all the major feasts of the Church year, starting with Christmas (the birth of Christ and the annunciation to the shepherds.) Each such image also has two prophets with banderoles in their hands between the circles, but nothing written on them to identify them specifically.
Epiphany: the Magi before Herod, and with the Madonna and Child. St Matthew does not say how long it was between the actual birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi, and this image is based on a type common in early Christian art, in which Jesus is a toddler, not a newborn.
The Wedding at Cana and the Baptism of the Lord.
The Temptation of Christ and the Transfiguration, the Gospels of the first two Sundays of Lent.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, and Christ with Mary Magdalene in the house of Simon the Pharisee.

The washing of Christ’s feet, and the supper in the house of Simon the Leper.
The priests and Pharisees taking counsel, and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The Last Supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet.
The arrest of Christ and His trial before Pilate.
The scourging at the column, and the carrying of the Cross.
The Crucifixion and Deposition
The Resurrection and the Harrowing of Hell
The Ascension and Pentecost; note the clever way the artist has used the borders to show Christ ascending into heaven.
The calendar page for June. Each month has an illuminated K at the beginning for the word “Kalendae”, the Roman name of the first day of the month. At the upper right is a depiction of a labor typical for that month (the reaping of wheat in this case), and the appropriate sign of the zodiac (in this case Cancer) next to the early 20s, when the sign changes.

The beginning of the first Psalm, with King David as a musician, accompanied by another, in the upper part of the B, his coronation in the lower part, and various episodes from his career in the medallions at the corners.

Each Psalm begins with a decorative letter. Throughout the manuscript, each line begins with a simpler letter, and the spaces between the end of a line and the margin of the writing is filled with a decorated bar.
Following a fairly standard convention of medieval liturgical psalters, each Psalm that begins the nocturn of a new day has a more elaborate illumination. Here we see the beginning of the Monday nocturn, Psalm 26, and a representation of its opening words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” with King David praying before Christ.

Psalm 38, the first of the Tuesday nocturn, “I said, ‘I will keep guard over my ways, that I may not sin by my tongue,’ ”, with David pointing to his own mouth as he is approached by a tempting devil.

Psalm 52, the first of the Wednesday nocturn, “The fool said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”, with David disputing with a fool.

Psalm 68, the first of the Thursday nocturn, “Save me, o God, for the waters have entered unto my soul.”
Psalm 80, the first of the Friday nocturn, “Exult ye unto God our help, rejoice unto the God of Jacob.” This psalm is one of the twelve with the name “Asaph” in its title, one of the musicians who, as the medievals understood it, helped David compose the Psalms. It is therefore often accompanied in illustrated psalters by an image of David with the other composers playing various instruments.

Psalm 97, the first Psalm of the Saturday nocturn, “Sing unto the Lord a new song”, with King David conducting a group of singers.

Psalm 109, the first of Sunday Vespers, “The Lord said to my Lord”, which is usually accompanied by an image of the Holy Trinity. The first psalms of the other days’ Vespers conventionally have no image.

Psalm 135: the repetition of “quoniam in aeternum misericordia ejus” after each verse has been omitted.
Part of the litany of the Saints.

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