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Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity, in The Winchester Psalter

Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.10r

Length: 32

Width: 22.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Traditionally called the 'St Swithun Psalter' because it contains a prayer to the saint, this psalter's origins can be placed at Winchester, probably at the Cathedral Priory, which is dedicated to him. It is beautifully illustrated with a series of full-page tinted drawings which probably reflect the tastes and high social status of Hugh of Blois, Bishop of Winchester (1129-1171), patron of the arts, and brother of King Stephen. Hugh had been a monk at Cluny where sumptuous visual art abounded. The psalter, though, was made in England, having some details which relate back to 11th Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Hugh of Blois may have used it as a prayerbook either privately or during the daily monastic prayers called the divine office.

Most of the full-page pictures are divided into two or more panels. Here four panels present, from top left, God sending the angel Gabriel with the message of the incarnation to Mary, the annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the visitation (Elizabeth, Mary's cousin and mother of John the Baptist, greets the Virgin, revealing she knows she bears the son of God), and the nativity or birth of Christ. The captions at the top, in Anglo-Norman French, were probably added a bit after the psalter was finished.

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