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Flight into Egypt, and Massacre of the Innocents, in The Winchester Psalter

Flight into Egypt, and Massacre of the Innocents, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.14r

Length: 32

Width: 22.5

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. The full-page pictures are framed with patterned borders, sometimes shaded to look three-dimensional, and usually are divided into two or more panels, each of which in turn has one or more scenes. Here at the top, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are escorted by an angel who wafts incense as they flee to Egypt. Below, Herod commands his depraved solders to massacre the innocent first-born. Although written before the birth of Jesus, the psalms were illustrated as prophecies of Christ and Christianity.

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