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The Annunciation to the Shepherds and The Magi Before Herod, in The Winchester Psalter

The Annunciation to the Shepherds and The Magi Before Herod, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.11r

Length: 32

Width: 22.2

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.

Divided into two panels, this page shows the annunciation of the birth of Christ to the shepherds and the magi before Herod. The magi are shown crowned and in rich clothing. The scenes are captioned in French. Even though the psalms were written before the birth of Jesus, in the middle ages they were illustrated as prophecies of Christ and Christianity. The pictures would have been aids for prayer, encouraging the viewer to connect the gospel stories with verses of the psalms.

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