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Psalm 1, in the St.-Omer Psalter

Psalm 1, in the St.-Omer Psalter

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1330

Shelfmark: Yates Thompson MS 14

Item number: f.7r

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.

Psalm 1 ('Beatus vir', 'Blessed the man') usually is the most decorated part of a medieval psalter. In the St Omer Psalter, the page swarms with a universe of human figures, plants, scenes, imaginary creatures and animals. The initial 'B' bears a picture of the tree of Jesse: the sleeping Old Testament ancestor grows the family tree of Jesus from his body. Nine small round pictures frame the page, showing scenes from Genesis, beginning with God and the creation and ending with scenes of the ark and Noah. At the bottom of the page, a woman and man (perhaps Sir William de St Omer) in the arms of the St Omer family kneel in reverence.

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