Images of the life of Christ


The book of Psalms was at the heart of medieval spirituality. From a relatively early date, very grand copies included a cycle of prefatory images of the life of Christ. The vivid images thereby enhance the devotional experience of reading and meditating on the Psalms, as well as providing a visual commentary on the biblical text.

These eight leaves are now separated from any text, but it is very likely that originally they formed part of such a prefatory cycle. The leaves were formerly in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton (b. 1571, d. 1631). Cotton was probably responsible for binding them together with a rare English copy of the Heliand, a ninth-century poem in which the Four Gospels are combined into a single narrative account in Old Saxon (now Cotton MS Caligula A VII). The leaves were removed from this volume in 1931.

Because they have been separated from their manuscript context, the leaves’ origin is uncertain and has been much debated. Suggestions range from centres in Denmark, Germany, northern France and Flanders. Stylistically they have features in common with manuscripts made in St Amand, France. The figures are rendered in bold primary colours, with thick black lines creating their features and outlining their clothing. They are placed on burnished gold grounds, which have been stamped or impressed with different patterns, including diamonds and curvilinear swirling foliage.

This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.

Full title:
Painted miniatures probably from a Psalter
3rd quarter of the 12th century, Northern France or Southern Netherlands
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Cotton MS Caligula A VII/1

Full catalogue details

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French manuscript illumination

Article by:
Charlotte Denoël
Art and illumination, Making manuscripts, Christian religion and belief

Drawings and painted decoration in manuscripts ornamented the text as well as illustrated or commented on it. Charlotte Denoël outlines the history of manuscript art in early medieval France.

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