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David and Goliath, in a Psalter

David and Goliath, in a Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 910

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vitellius F XI

Item number: f.1r

Length: 22.2

Width: 16

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Severely damaged in a fire in 1731, this psalter was part of the collection of Robert Cotton which eventually became part of the British Library. It was made in Ireland, although where is not known for certain. An inscription, now lost, was supposed to have connected it to a person called Muiredach. The most well-known Muiredach was abbot of Monasterboice in the early 10th century, and usually the psalter's origin is placed there for that reason. Also, some of the decoration in it resembles carvings on the stone Cross of Muiredach at Monasterboice. The Book of Psalms is traditionally said to have been written by King David. Many medieval psalters begin with pictures of David, following the ancient practice of placing a portrait of the author at the beginning of a book. In this picture, David is shown battling Goliath. He holds a sceptre, and his sling dangles from his right hand. Goliath is shown collapsing. The carving of the same subject on the Cross of Muiredach resembles this picture in several details. The simplified figures with unrealistic proportions and flat patterns for clothing are in a style seen in early 10th-century Irish art. The point was to create a visually rich, flat pattern rather than to imitate natural appearances.

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