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Last Judgement, in The Winchester Psalter

Last Judgement, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.35r

Length: 32

Width: 22.6

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. This one has a visual unity because of the coinciding symmetrical compositions of upper and lower panels. In the upper panel, Christ is shown displaying his wounds, as tradition said he would at his second coming. He is enthroned upon the heavens within a mandorla, or vesica-shaped field indicating that the figure is a heavenly vision. Two angels carry the mandorla. Below, two further angels support a jewelled cross, sign of the victory over death, before a sarcophagus-like altar, a double reference to the resurrection and the eucharist. This would have been the central image in a series of pictures showing the Last Judgement, with the saved to the right, the damned to the left.

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