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Psalters from Bodleian Library collections

by on September 29, 2010

Throughout the Middle Ages psalters were produced in relatively large numbers for different patrons and uses. The psalter is the most frequently preserved liturgical book from the early Middle Ages, and the most extensively illustrated medieval liturgical book. This display of manuscripts from different countries aims to give an idea of the variety of its content and form.

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(1) MS. Rawl. G. 163: Psalter with commentary attributed to Bruno of Würzburg (d. 1045), Germany, Tegernsee, 11th century, second half.
Each page is divided into two equal columns, with the text of the psalms in a larger script occupying the inner column and the text of the collects (middle-size script) and commentary (small script) occupying the outer column. Titles in red; running header ‘BRVNO EPS’; liturgical additions in late-medieval hands.

(2) MS. Bodl. 554: Wycliffite Psalter, England, late 14th century.
The psalms are accompanied by titles in English and Latin incipits which appear before the start of the English text. Liturgical divisions are marked with larger initials. The margins contain extensive glosses, mostly from Nicholas of Lyra, but also from Augustine and the ‘comun glos’. This MS preserves the Wycliffite glosses on the psalter better than any other known copy.

(3) MS. Liturg. 198: Secular Psalter, England, North East(?), 14th century, third quarter.
Liturgical divisions according to secular use (Matins and Vespers during the week), and the division into ‘three fifties’ are marked with larger initials. The initial of psalm 101 contains a portrait of a lay woman kneeling before an altar. The portraits of patrons are particularly likely to appear at the start of this penitential psalm, beginning ‘My Lord, hear my prayer’.

(4) MS. Liturg. 396: Psalter, Flanders, Bruges, 13th century, middle.
Psalms are preceded by a calendar with miniatures depicting Occupations of the Months, including a woman with a candle (for the feast of Candlemas) for February, and a man pruning a tree with an axe for March. These pages also contain added 15th-century notes in Netherlandish about bissext and the calculation of the date of Easter.

(5) MS. Douce 48: Portable Psalter made for a Franciscan patron, France, Paris(?),13th century, second quarter.
Psalms are preceded by fourteen full-page miniatures, illustrating the life of Joseph. This is a rare example of a psalter with a prefatory cycle based entirely on Old Testament subjects. As is common in Parisian manuscripts from this period, the miniatures are set in medallions with scenes on gold background.

— from Elizabeth Solopova

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