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The Last Judgement, in The Winchester Psalter

The Last Judgement, in The Winchester Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Nero C IV

Item number: f.39r

Length: 32

Width: 22.1

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, however, has a single unified image of the mouth of Hell. Formed of the maws of two hideous, gigantic monsters, it swirls with the chaotic figures of the damned, including kings and a queen wearing only their crowns and a tonsured monk, as well as young and old, male and female. They are tortured by slimy, hairy demons, while an angel locks the door in the border with a large key, a feature seen in an 11th-century Anglo-Saxon picture of hell.

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