PSALTER, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[London, first quarter 15th century]171 x 120mm. 166 leaves + fragments of a calendar on paper in English in a 17th-century hand mounted inside lower cover: 17(of 8, lacking vi), 28, 37(of 8, lacking iii), 47(of 8, lacking vii), 58, 67(of 8, lacking iii), 78, 87(of 8, lacking i), 96(of 8, lacking vii and viii), 107(of 8, lacking i), 113(of 8, lacking iv-viii), 128, catchwords in lower margins of final versos, most signatures, modern pencilled pagination, 19 lines written in a brown ink in a gothic bookhand between two verticals and 20 horizontals ruled in grey, justification: 103 x 59mm, prickings for horizontals, rubrics in red, one- and two-line initials in blue flourished with red or in burnished gold flourished in purple, the penwork often extending into the margins (lacking opening gatherings before the first signature k, final gathering and thirteen further leaves, seven of these probably with historiated initials, outer sections of pp.49-50 and 53-54 lacking including text, outer margin trimmed pp.151-152, pp.147-150 cut at gutter, gold rubbed in a few pages, wear to margins). Modern brown leather gilt.
1. The script and flourishing suggest that the manuscript was made in London in the early 15th century; the Psalms of the Passion were a devotional form especially popular in England.
2. A few marginal annotations show that the manuscript remained in use; the Calendar fragments, presumably retrieved when the book was rebound, show that in the 17th century the book was in English Catholic hands.
3. Walter George Gegan, 1947: inscribed on vellum flyleaf; he is probably responsible for the numbering of the psalms in pencil; by descent to the present owner.
Psalter, in Latin, lacking beginning and end and thirteen further leaves, opening in the antiphons before Psalm XX, Psalm XXI headed Incipiunt psalmi passionis, p.3, with Hic finiunt psalmi passionis, after Psalm XXX, verse 5, p.16, breaking in Psalm CXL, verse 9, pp.1-164. The remaining Psalms, to Psalm CL, would have been contained in one gathering.
It is not clear what other texts might have been included. Since the Psalter was fundamental to liturgical and devotional practice, independent Psalters remained in demand among the laity despite the development of the Book of Hours. Psalms XXI-XXX, 5, were traditionally interpreted as forecasting the Passion of Christ. They were recited together at Sunday matins in the Benedictine liturgy but the notion of the Psalms of the Passion as a specific devotional group seems to have been a particularly English development. They appear as such, isolated from the rest of the Psalter, in many fifteenth-century Books of Hours for English use.
This Psalter was handsomely illuminated with each verse of each psalm marked by a decorated initial, delicately flourished in patterns typical of manuscripts associated with London. Given the quality of the surviving decoration, the missing opening pages of the eight major divisions of the Psalter, at Psalms 1, 26, 38, 52, 68, 80, 97 and 109, were probably marked by historiated initials. The remaining text, however, constitutes a refined example of English book production in the earlier fifteenth century.