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The Disbelieving Fool (Psalm 52 / 53), in the St.-Omer Psalter

The Disbelieving Fool (Psalm 52 / 53), in the St.-Omer Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1330

Shelfmark: Yates Thompson MS 14

Item number: f.57v

Genre: Manuscript

Probably first commissioned by a knight of the St Omer family of Mulbarton, Norfolk, c.1325, this psalter was decorated in two campaigns about seventy years apart. The original artists finished the paintings but only part of the decoration. In the early 15th century another artist finished most of it, resulting in combinations of 14th- and 15th-century styles on some pages. The 14th-century artists had left drawings for some of the decoration, which the later artist followed. Where there were no pre-existing drawings, the 15th-century artist modified the general system of the earlier designs and painted single figures or plants in the areas where the earlier artist would have put diminutive story-telling scenes. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, owned the manuscript in the 15th century and probably had the later work done. Modifying, updating or finishing a manuscript's decoration many years later was not at all uncommon at any period in the middle ages, rather like redecorating or remodelling a house.

The decoration of Psalm 52 / 53 ("The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'") was created by one of the 14th-century artists. The first letter of the psalm bears a picture of the fool contradicting a king, whose armoured knights surround his throne, one of them staring in disbelief at the fool. In discs of the border, scenes of Samson and Moses underscore the themes of faith in God's authority and the foolishness of disbelief.

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