14th Century

Queen Mary's Psalter

Queen Mary's Psalter; miniatures and drawings by an English artist of the 14th century, reproduced from Royal ms. 2 B. VII in the British Museum. London, Printed for the Trustees, sold at the British Museum [etc.] 1912. 
ND3357.Q8 W3 Special Collections oversized

The Queen Mary Psalter with its high quality and prolific but restrained illustrations contains a large number of introductory pictures, pictures set in the text, and small drawings at the foot of the pages.The small drawings are lightly tinted; the main pictures are more heavily coloured but still rely on line rather than modeling.

The facsimile of the Queen Mary Psalter held in Special Collections is in black and white. The original manuscript is in color.  

The Psalter has some interesting features. The presentation of most of the illuminations is uniform in that the scenes are enacted within a modest architectural framework. They are, moreover, included within the text of the psalter as illustrations independent of the initial decoration. The artist of the bestiary sequence does not seem to have understood the nature of some of the beasts he was illustrating.  He drew any unknown animal as a dog, ass, or deer. For instance, the panther looks like an ass, with cloven hooves; the asp, viper, serra, Ethiopian ants, crocodile and tiger look much like dogs; and the serpent fleeing the naked man is a deer. Other creatures, particularly birds, are drawn more realistically.

The Queen Mary Psalter has long been recognized as an outstanding English Gothic manuscript. Its straightforward devotional texts are framed by a richly encyclopedic series of narrative images painted in a delicate and courtly style. The psalms are introduced by an Old Testament preface in which lively tinted drawings are explained by chatty French captions. The psalm decoration incorporates a combination of framed illuminations of the life of Christ at the beginnings of important psalms, and tiny tinted drawings in the bottom margin of every page that tell stories ranging from the bestiary to the lives of the saints. Queen Mary Tudor owned the Psalter two centuries after it was made, but substantial contextual evidence suggests that its original owner was Isabelle of France, the queen of Edward II of England and mother of Edward III. The Psalter provided a rich experience in the reading of texts and images for viewing.

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