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Psalm 1 with David, in The Winchester Psalter

Psalm 1 with David, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.46r

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.

In medieval psalters, the first letter of Psalm 1 ("Beatus vir", "Blessed the man") is usually the largest and most decorated in the book, often bearing pictures of David, who was believed to be the author of the psalms. In the Winchester Psalter, he is shown in the act of writing, with the dove of the Holy Spirit emerging from a cloud to whisper divine inspiration into his ear. In the lower curve of the letter, he is shown playing his musical instrument, again as composer of the psalms who receives inspiration from the hand of God.

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