'THE PSALTER OF MARGARET 'THE BLACK'', Countess of Flanders and Hainault, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Flanders, last quarter of the 13th century]
110 x 80mm. 227 leaves, including 2 blanks, the collation seems originally to have been irregular and the leaves are now partly bound out of sequence, making collation difficult: ff.9-10 should follow f.58, ff.18-26 should follow f.45, ff.99-102 should follow f.105, and f.187 should follow f.189, gaps in the text suggest that 31 leaves are missing, two medieval series of leaf signatures, catchwords on ff.167v and 177v, written in formal gothic book-hand in brown ink (the calendar also in red) between two verticals and 17 horizontals ruled in plummet, justification: 65 x 45mm, line-fillers throughout in red, blue and gold, one-line initials to verses alternately blue with red penwork, or gold with blue penwork, the penwork often spilling widely into the margins, three-line KL monograms in the calendar in rose or blue on gold grounds with animal and foliate extensions, similar three-line initials in gold edged with black on cusped grounds of rose and blue with white ornament, many of them historiated with male or female heads, to psalms, canticles, collects, etc., from which spring bars framing the upper, lower, and left sides of the text, the upper and lower right bars terminating with animal heads, OVER 100 MARGINAL DROLLERIES AND VIGNETTES IN THE ADJOINING LOWER RIGHT MARGINS, EIGHT CALENDAR MINIATURES, some of them in two compartments, inserted ad hoc into available spaces, one enlarged 5-line HISTORIATED INITIAL at the first canticle, SIX LARGE HISTORIATED INITIALS, typically 7-9 lines high, EACH ACCOMPANIED BY A FULL BORDER INCORPORATING FIGURES, ANIMALS, etc. at the normal divisions of the psalter (parts of the calendar excised and replaced with blank vellum, some stains, rubbing, and smudging, some loss of decoration at edges of leaves, signs of use throughout). Early 17th-century profusely gilt brown morocco over wooden boards, each cover framed with four rolls, enclosing foliate scrolls, with an oval centrepiece depicting the Crucifixion (upper cover) and Virgin and Child on a crescent (lower cover), the spine with four gilt raised bands, the compartments with gilt foliate scrolls, the edges of the leaves gilt, two clasps at the fore-edge fastening from the lower cover to pins projecting from the edge of the upper cover, in a cloth folder and brown morocco slipcase lettered in gilt 'PSALTER WITH CANTICLES ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT FLANDERS ABOUT 1260 - 1280' (some overall wear, two corners chipped, vertical breaks in the boards expertly repaired, re-backed with the spine re-laid on, the upper joint with some splitting).
A CHARMING LITTLE VOLUME WITH A PROFUSION OF DELIGHTFUL MARGINALIA, PERHAPS MADE FOR MARGARET, COUNTESS OF FLANDERS AND HAINAULT
1. The calendar and litany give no precise indication of where the manuscript was made or intended to be used. Perhaps the only saints unexpectedly emphasised in red in the calendar are Denis (patron of France) and his rarer companion Rusticus. St Louis, canonized in 1297, is absent. Among the lesser saints in the calendar and litany, which together point to the area of Ghent and Bruges, are Lambert of Liège, Amand (apostle of Flanders), Donatian (to whom the cathedral of Bruges was dedicated), Basil (to whom the lower chapel of the Church of the Holy Blood at Bruges was dedicated), and Bavo (to whom Ghent cathedral was dedicated). The litany is very unusual in having eight women, from Felicity to Prisca, before Mary Magdalene and Mary of Egypt, who usually occur at the head of the list of Virgins. The list ends with Sts Ursula and Cordula of Cologne, which may suggest the involvement of a textual exemplar from further east. Some of the petitions are rarely found except in manuscripts from Flanders (see Kerstin Carlvant, Thirteenth-Century Illumination in Bruges and Ghent, unpublished PhD, Columbia University, 2 vols., 1978).
The original decoration includes the arms of two adjoining southern Netherlandish counties. The first is presumably intended to represent Flanders (or a lion rampant sable - the images are too small to include the red tongue and claws), which occurs in one margin and one initial on ff.40v and 103v, while the other is presumably meant to be the pre-1300 arms of Hainault (chevronny or and sable - only one sable chevron is shown), and occurs in the margin of f.190v. (The arms of Hainault changed in 1299, further evidence to date this manuscript before 1300). In their 1955 catalogue H.P. Kraus observed that 'In the latter part of the XIIIth century no one was entitled to these two armorial bearings except the unfortunate Countess Margaret of Flanders and Hainaut (1202-1280), who was called ''The Black'' because she had so many occasions to go into mourning'. Elizabeth Moore Hunt lends support to this attribution by observing that Margaret's name-saint is the only female saint depicted in the volume, and several features of the decoration are closely paralleled in the Psalter of Margaret's son, Guy of Dampierre (Brussels, KBR, Ms. 10607), which is variously dated by scholars from the mid-1260s to the mid-1280s. There are few reliable points of reference for dating Flemish illumination of this period, but the major decoration of the present manuscript looks significantly earlier than that in the Ghistelles Hours, whose Easter Table was apparently written in 1299/1300.
2. Still in the Netherlands in the early 17th century, when rebound.
3. Several 19th- and 20th-century owners: erased 19th-century pencil inscription, 'MS 13' (?) (front pastedown); various other erased inscriptions on pastedowns including a 20th-century price-code of Maggs Bros. (back pastedown); Kraus, Catalogue 75 (1955) no. 88; Sotheby's, 21 June 1988, lot 73; bought by Kraus, with their notes and collation dated '6/88' (back pastedown).
Calendar, lacking part or all of February-July and November-December, ff.1v-7v; blank f.8; Psalms, misbound and lacking about 30 leaves, ff.9-199; the six ferial canticles (lacking the end of the 4th and beginning of the 5th due to the loss of one leaf), followed by the Benedicite, Bendictus, Te deum, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and Quicumque vult, ff.199-220; blank 220v; Litany and petitions, ff.221-226v; two collects f.226v.
The iconography of the calendar, main psalm initials (which show obvious French influence), and some of the marginal figures, is very close to Bodleian Library, Ms. Laud Lat. 84, which has southern Netherlandish heraldry incorporated into the frames around some of the miniatures. Most of the full-page miniatures in the Bodleian psalter are interspersed within the text, as they also are in the Psalter of Guy of Dampierre, and if the present manuscript also once had such miniatures it would help to explain the irregular original collation.
Very unusually, calendar miniatures were not planned for every month: they were only inserted when there was adequate space between and around the lines of text. The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.1v January: a man eating, drinking, and warming his feet at a hearth
f.2 Aquarius, the water-carrier
f.2v February: a woman with a tall taper (for Candlemas, 2 February) below a bell-tower
f.3v April: a man holding budding sprigs
f.4 Leo, the lion
f.5v September: a man picking grapes, in another compartment a man treading grapes
f.6 Libra, a woman holding a pair of scales
f.7v November: a man knocking acorns from an oak tree, in another compartment are pigs eating the acorns
The subjects of the seven large historiated initials are:
f.9 Psalm 38: King David pointing to his mouth; Christ blessing. The border with a dog, rabbit, and a hybrid figure with antlers, playing bagpipes.
f.19v Psalm 26: King David pointing to his eye; Christ blessing. The border with a stork presenting a charter with a pendent green seal to a seated monkey wearing academic garb.
f.77 Psalm 52: The Trinity. The border with a man holding a shield or pillow(?) to protect himself from a butting ram.
f.93 Psalm 68: King David in water, Christ blessing above. The border includes a falconer with glove and lure, and a hybrid bagpipe-player. f.116 Psalm 80: King David playing a carillon of bells. The border with an angel(?) putting a wreath on the head of a praying youth.
f.138v Psalm 97: Two clerics singing at a lectern. The border with a huntsman, dogs, and a rabbit.
f.199 The first Canticle. A seated figure speaking.
Many of the smaller psalm initials have male or female heads, animals, etc. One is extremely unusual among manuscripts of the 13th century in depicting a moor's head, f.173 (cf. Jean Devisse, The Image of the Black in Western Art, II, 1979).
The creatures and figures on ordinary psalm pages include (but are not limited to): a stag f.12, a hound f.14, a man with a falcon f.15, a peacock f.21, a hybrid bishop f.23, a woman balancing a large pot on her head f.29, a hawk f.29v, a hybrid fish-human balancing a spear on his chin f.34, a man with a ragged staff f.38v, a hybrid woman reading a book f.40, a dog standing on its hind legs, holding a banner with the arms of Flanders f.40v, a hybrid figure playing a rebec(?) f.42, a hybrid figure playing a horn f.46, a figure praying f.47, a figure with a bow and arrow f.49, a monkey with a lure, attracting a flying bird f.52, a figure in clerical garb holding a lantern(?) f.53v, a rabbit f.60v, a man balancing the tip of a sword on his chin f.62, a male saint f.63, a nun's head, a monks head, and a hybrid laywoman f.63v, a rabbit with an architectural doorway(?) on its back f.66, a man holding a lantern(?) 67v, a stag with golden antlers playing a pipe f.68v, a mermaid playing a pipe 69v, a woman holding a wreath of flowers that frames natural hole in the vellum page f.70v, St Francis with the stigmata preaching to two birds f.72v, St Paul f.74, a plate-spinner with two plates in the air above his two sticks f.76, a dog f.79v, a laywoman holding a lap-dog f.80v, a man balancing a chalice atop a pole on his nose f.82, a rabbit playing a psaltery f.85, a hybrid queen f.85v, a monkey wielding a sword and shield f.89v, a man playing a pipe and drum f.90, a rabbit playing a pipe f.97v, a peacock f.98, a mermaid with a mirror f 103v, a woman playing a portative organ f.105, a hybrid monk singing from a choirbook f.106v, a monkey playing bagpipes f.113, a bird in a cage f.114v, a figure apparently holding an object to his ear while standing on one leg f.120v, a laywoman apparently examining her face in a mirror f.124, a creature with a unicorn-like tusk f.130v, a kneeling serving-boy offering a pitcher f.133, a hybrid solider f.133v, a hybrid quadruped with woman's head f.135v, a hare(?) blowing a horn f.137v, a preacher holding a book f.139, a stag-like creature with long neck f.140, a creature with a unicorn-like horn f.140v, a kneeling king with sceptre f.150v, a mermaid f.164, a blue cat with white stripes f.164v, a monkey playing a portative organ (the accompanying Psalm initial with a hybrid fish-human playing bagpipes) f.174, a half-length woman carrying a pot on her head f.174v, birds each with a circular object in its beak ff.178v-179, a half-length laywoman holding a bird f.181, a figure playing a viol(?) f.181v, a kneeling serving-boy with bowl and pitcher f.184v, a hybrid figure holding a banner with the arms of Hainault f.190v, a stork f.191v, a hybrid nun blowing a horn f.193v, St Margaret emerging from the dragon f.196, an half-length aristocratic woman f.198, a large drawing of an archbishop or pope holding a tall crosier f.200, a monkey eating f.202v, a musician blowing a very long horn f.213, a soldier holding a sword and the head of an animal f.216v.
This manuscript has a profusion of the sort of marginal drollery that delights modern audiences. Although they made a very rare and unexplained appearance in England c.1260, in the Rutland Psalter (BL, Add. MS. 62925), such marginalia primarily blossomed as a decorative manner in late 13th- and early 14th-century Books of Hours and Psalters from northern France and the Southern Netherlands. The present manuscript is a prime example of the genre, warranting its inclusion in Lilian Randall's definitive guide to the phenomenon.
H.P. Kraus, 'A Psalter Written and Illuminated for Margaret the Black of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders and Hainault', in Choice Manuscripts and Books, Bindings and Autographs, Outstanding for their Beauty, Rarity, or Importance, Catalogue 75, , pp.95-7, with 20 reproductions.
Lilian M.C. Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts, 1966, figs.13, 85, 413, 503, 620, and 650.
Elizabeth Moore Hunt, Illuminating the Borders of Northern French and Flemish Manuscripts, 1270-1310, 2007, pp.45-8.