PSALTER, from a Bible, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[?Paris, early 14th century]350 x 260mm. 27 leaves: written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand in two columns of 46 lines between four verticals and 47 horizontals ruled in grey, justification: 255 x 84 - 18 - 84 mm, lower prickings for verticals on most leaves, rubrics in red, numerous one- and two-line initials in gold on divided grounds of blue and pink patterned with white, EIGHT LARGE INITIALS with staves of blue or pink and grounds of the contrasting colour with foliate infills, two with dragon heads, on burnished gold, extending into partial BORDERS with ivy leaf or dragon head terminals, one with a hound chasing a rabbit (slight worming to margins of opening leaves, some loss of blue pigment from some leaves, stitching lost from two original repairs). 19th-century half vellum and marbled boards, red morocco lettering piece (slightly soiled).
The Bible, from which the Psalter comes, was probably made in Paris in the early years of the 14th century for a lay patron of considerable wealth; most large vernacular Bibles were produced for aristocratic owners, some female. Bibles in French were not automatically associated with heresy, despite anxieties about the Cathars, but were seen as useful aids to Christian instruction.
Francis Ferrand Foljambe: his crested stamp on f.1.
The Psalter, in French, with the opening words of each Psalm, and each division of Ps 118, repeated in Latin and written in red; the heading of Ps 106, which should have duplicated that of Ps 105, was omitted, presumably in error. Psalm 9 is divided after verse 19; Psalm 17 is divided after verse 25. The French text of Ps 1 opens 'Boin eures est li hons qui nala pas el conseil des felons'; Ps 150 closes 'Loes li en cloches bien sonnans loes le en cloches de iubilation tout esprit loes nostre seigneur', ff.1-27v.
The Psalter, fundamental to the Christian liturgy and to private devotional practice, was the first book of the Bible to circulate in French prose. The original early 12th-century translation into Anglo-French, based on Jerome's Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter, informed subsequent French versions on both sides of the Channel. In the present lot, the division of Psalm 9 follows the conventions of the Hebrew Psalter and not those of the Latin Vulgate, where the Psalter is taken from Jerome's translation from the Greek. The Anglo-French translation formed the basis of the Psalter in the first complete Bible in French, compiled and translated in the 13th century and so usually known as the Bible du XIIIe siècle. Debate continues over its origin and date: it was based on the text of the Latin Bible established in Paris in the first three decades of the 13th century and so cannot predate c.1220; the earliest surviving manuscripts date from the later 13th century but it has been argued that the text had been completed by about 1260. The success of the Paris Bible in making the complete Latin Vulgate widely available may have stimulated demand for a complete Bible in French to satisfy the growing numbers literate in the vernacular but not Latin. Perhaps fostered by the Dominican Order with its dual mission of lay instruction and scholarship, the Bible du XIIIe siècle is usually thought to have originated in Paris, although a case has been made for Orléans (see C. Sneddon, 'On the creation of the Old French Bible', Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, 46 (2002), pp.25-44, and 'The Bible du XIIIe siècle: its medieval public in the light of its manuscript tradition', The Bible and Medieval Culture, 1979, pp.127-40).
Few complete copies of the Bible du XIIIe siècle survive, since the demand for the historical books of the Old Testament in French was rapidly better satisfied by the Bible historiale composed by Guiard des Moulins, canon of Aire in Artois, between 1291 and 1295. He translated and adapted parts of Peter Comestor's biblical history, the Historia scholastica and interspersed them with translations of the narrative books of the Old Testament. His work proved very popular yet did not satisfy the new market for the complete Biblical text. Therefore, missing material, including the Psalter, was supplied from the Bible du XIIIe siècle. Possibly by 1312 and certainly by 1314, the date of a copy in Edinburgh University Library (ms 19), the non-historical books of the Bible and the complete Gospels were being added to des Moulins's work to form versions of the Bible in French of varying degrees of completeness, although virtually all included the Psalter. About 100 manuscripts of the amplified Bible historiale survive, as opposed to some six of the Bible du XIIIe siècle (see P.-M. Bogaert, Les Bibles en français: histoire illustrée du moyen âge à nos jours, 1991).
Unlike the small, portable Latin Bibles, characteristic of 13th-century Paris, both the Bible du XIIIe siècle and the expanded Bible historiale were usually produced in two large, luxurious volumes aimed at the upper echelons of the market. The large script, two-column layout and handsome illumination of the present lot suggest that it came from a complete Bible, although it is impossible to say whether its parent volume was a copy of the Bible du XIIIe siècle or a Bible historiale. Its apparent date would make it an early example of the completed Bible historiale, so that it is perhaps more likely to have formed part of the rarer Bible du XIIIe siècle. In either, the Psalter usually concluded the first volume, which would have made it easier to detach.
Because the Psalter was already circulating in French in varying derivatives from the first Anglo-French translation, numerous variants have been noted between the Psalters incorporated into French Bibles and their possible prefaces and glosses. The division of Psalms 9 and 17 in the present lot is a characteristic of the Bible du XIIIe siècle, although in conformity with the Latin Paris Bible the Psalms are not numbered. From limited quotations, the present lot seems generally in accord with the Psalter in the first volume of a copy of the Bible du XIIIe siècle dating from the late 13th century, now Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal ms 5056. Similar Psalters are found in completed Bibles historiales, such as that captured from John the Good at Poitiers in 1356 (London, BL, Royal 19 D II) and that presented to Charles V by Jean Vaudetar (The Hague, Museum Meerman-Westreenianum, ms 10 B 23). There is no edition of the Psalter of the Bible du XIIIe siècle and the textual relationships made by Samuel Berger came from a limited number of manuscripts (S. Berger, La Bible française au moyen àge: étude sur les plus anciennes versions de la Bible écrites en prose de langue d'oil, 1884). Despite the absence of the Psalter's liturgical adjuncts of canticles and litany, which followed the Psalms in many French Bibles, the centrality of the text to Christian worship gave it immediate appeal as an independent item.
The illumination is assertively lavish with each verse opening with a one-line gold initial and each psalm with a two-line gold initial: in many Bibles, even royal ones, decoration of initials for the Psalm verses was limited to coloured flourishing. Large initials with extensions making partial borders mark the eight divisions of the Psalter into the psalms for each day of the week and for vespers on Sunday. The dragon terminals and the stiffer bar extensions on ff.10v and 19 suggest a date towards 1300, whereas the ivy leaf terminals and the gentler, curving forms found elsewhere are more typical of illumination in the first decades of the 14th century. The delightful hound chasing a rabbit along the bar on f.1 was a popular motif, frequently found in devotional as well as secular books.
The large initials are on ff.1, 5, 8, 10v, 13, 16v, 19, 22.