Vigil for the Office of the Dead, Psalter
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
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 workshops by lay scribes and artists, an industry which grew out of book production for the university. Collections of prayers besides the Hours of the Virgin follow the psalms in this book.
At this point, a whole section was added, clearly the product of a different scribe and artist, who was not as skilled as those who made the rest of the book. This gives prayers for the vigil of the Office of the Dead, beginning with Psalm 114 (116). The historiated initial shows three heads, two of whom look upward. Possibly whatever they were looking at was never painted or may have been covered by the clumsily applied gold.