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Descent into Hell and the Holy Women at the Tomb, in a Psalter

Descent into Hell and the Holy Women at the Tomb, in a Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1210

Shelfmark: Arundel MS 157

Item number: f.11r

Length: 29.1

Width: 19

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Used as a prayerbook as well as a book of hymns for church services, the psalter in the later middle ages was often produced with a calendar and additional prayers. Eventually it was combined with an abridged version of the breviary, the prayerbook used by monks, to form the special lay prayerbook, the book of hours. This psalter represents an important stage in this development as it took place in England. It is one of the earliest psalters to include the Hours of the Virgin, a special set of devotions taken from the breviary. Also it is the earliest of a line of richly decorated psalters which were probably made at Oxford, in the workshops by lay scribes and artists, an industry which grew out of book production for the university. The book originally began with a series of scenes, two to a page, within an elaborate border. These would have been devotional aids to the book's reader, helping them to contemplate the life of Christ. The main events of the gospels are depicted chronologically. After eleven pictures of the events of Christ's passion and death, the series represents Christ's descent into Hell followed by the holy women at his tomb. The resurrection itself is not depicted. In the picture of the descent, Christ is shown retrieving Adam and Eve and other souls from the mouth of Hell, which seems reluctant to let one of them go.

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