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Noah and the Ark, and Sacrifice of Isaac, in The Winchester Psalter

Noah and the Ark, and Sacrifice of Isaac, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.3r

Length: 32

Width: 22.3

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.

Many of the full-page pictures are divided into two or three related images. Here, in the top panel, God instructs Noah as he builds the ark, axe in hand. In the middle, Noah is afloat in it as the dove returns with the olive branch. Finally, the story of Abraham and Isaac is compressed into one panel.

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