Illuminated copies of the Book of Psalms were very popular in Byzantium. One group of illuminated psalters are known as ‘aristocratic’ psalters, which contain full-page miniatures grouped together at the beginning of the manuscript. They stand in contrast to marginal psalters, which, as the name suggests, contain miniatures throughout the manuscript located in the margins.
Additional 36928 is a fine example of an aristocratic psalter from the late 11th century. Although its miniatures have been rubbed away with the passing of time, it is possible in almost all cases to make out the original image and to get a sense of the quality of the decoration. A group of six images before the Psalms contains depictions of King David, the purported author of the Psalms, accompanied by explanatory verses. Dividing the Psalms from the Canticles later in the manuscript are two further full-page illuminations which have been very heavily rubbed away. They likely depict scenes mentioned in the Canticles.
The manuscript contains a table of movable feasts which begins with September 1090, and it is likely that the volume was completed shortly before then. It was later in the possession of the Monastery of St Sabba near Jerusalem. By the 1830s it was in England, in the possession of the Rev. Walter Sneyd of Keele Hall. It was acquired by the British Museum in 1904.
- Article by:
- Kalliroe Linardou
- Art, Religion, The makers of Greek manuscripts
Byzantine book illumination was at its most ambitious and innovative in the decorated psalters produced between the 9th and 11th centuries. Here, Kalliroe Linardou explains the two main types of illuminated psalters and describes some of their key features.