The Utrecht Psalter represents a revolutionary approach to the illustration of the Psalms. Earlier Psalters were sometimes ornamented with scenes from the life of King David, either on a few pages or painted inside initials. By contrast, the Utrecht Psalter’s ink drawings illustrate every phrase from the text of the Psalm on a given page.
The style of illustration in the Utrecht Psalter – made near the city of Reims in northern Francia – had a significant impact on Anglo-Saxon art. By the 11th century, the Utrecht Psalter was in Canterbury, where a direct copy, known as the Harley Psalter, was made. Many Anglo-Saxon artists were influenced by the Utrecht Psalter’s vibrant and expressive style of line drawing. This can be seen in some of the finest manuscripts produced in 11th-century England, such as the Tiberius Psalter, the Arenberg Gospels and the Eadui Psalter.
The Utrecht Psalter was once in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton (1571–1631). It was borrowed by Thomas Howard, the 14th earl of Arundel and 1st earl of Norfolk (1585–1646), who took the book to the Continent in 1642. The manuscript was later owned by the Utrecht patrician Willem de Ridder and was donated by him to Utrecht University Library in 1716.