A small portrait of a knight wearing the St Omer coat of arms is painted on the opening page of this richly illuminated copy of the Book of Psalms. This knight appears to have been the original owner of the manuscript, which was commissioned for the St Omer family of Mulbarton in Norfolk in the early 14th century, though much of the work was left unfinished.
The Psalter’s calendar and large portions of the text were added a century later, once it had passed into the hands of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (b. 1390, d. 1447), the fourth and youngest son of Henry IV (r. 1399–1413) and a renowned literary patron. Humphrey is identified as one of the manuscript’s former owners in a now faded inscription in Anglo-Norman French, only visible through ultraviolet light: 'Cest livre est a moy Homfrey… duc de gloucestre comte de penbroc chambellan dangleterre' (This book belongs to Humphrey… Duke of Gloucester, Count of Pembroke, Grand Chamberlain of England).
The Psalter’s extensive decoration includes detailed full-page illustrations and historiated initials (enlarged letters containing images), marking the major divisions of the text and providing a visual commentary on the Psalms themselves. Many of these images depict scenes from the Old Testament, such as Moses and the burning bush, Samson and Delilah, and the fight between David and Goliath. A historiated initial D(ominus), which marks the beginning of Psalm 109, contains a representation of the Last Judgement (Image No. 2), surrounded by nine small roundels telling the story of the Passion of Christ.
- Article by:
- Alixe Bovey
Images of the afterlife dominate illuminated manuscripts, paintings, sculptures and literature in the Middle Ages. Dr Alixe Bovey examines how ideas of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory impacted on everday life.