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Psalm 51, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Psalm 51, in the 'Shaftesbury Psalter'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1135

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 383

Item number: f.57r

Length: 22.3

Width: 13

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

In the middle ages, there was a nunnery at Shaftesbury, and this psalter appears to have been made there or to have been modelled after a manuscript from Shaftesbury. Its calendar (used to coordinate prayers with saints' days and other feasts) and litany (a prayer appealing to saints for their help) mention saints who were especially venerated at Shaftesbury. The figures in its many pictures resemble a carving found at nearby Milborne St Andrew. Although its origins at Shaftesbury can not be shown beyond a doubt, it is certain that it was made for a female reader, probably an abbess. Recently a scholar suggested that it was made for Queen Adeliza, the widow of Henry I.

In the middle ages, psalters were divided according to several traditions, each differing in number of divisions. The Shaftesbury Psalter has a ten-fold division. The first letter of each division has a picture (called a 'historiated initial'). The initial of Psalm 51 (52) ("Quid gloriaris", "Why do you boast") is divided into four parts, the upper ones showing David killing Goliath, who falls realistically with his bleeding wounds, and the lower David carrying Goliath's head to Saul's palace. A beautiful fire-breathing dragon forms the 'tail' of the 'Q'.

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