Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Legacy of the Utrecht Psalter: the Eadwine Psalter & its brethren

The Eadwine Psalter is the second of the three copies of the Utrecht Psalter that were copied from it during its long travels before it reached Utrecht at one monastery--Christ Church in Canterbury, England. All three of these books were produced from the same monastery but with very different results, all of them are of very high quality in preparation, scribal work, and painting/illumination. It is interesting the increasing level of detail from psalter to psalter in these four books.
Utrecht Psalter

The Utrecht Psalter (France, ca. 820-830) was decorated solely by ink drawings done with the same brown walnut gall ink as the writing.

Harley Psalter

Then the Harley Psalter (Canterbury, ca.1110-30 w/additions in ca.1140 in London) which keeps with the same illustrations as its predecessor but adds in colored inks as well.

Eadwine Psalter

The Eadwine Psalter (Canterbury,  ca.1120-60 w/additions in 1160-70) a trilingual (Latin, Old English, and Anglo-French) psalter with several different glosses. The drawings are in a different style than before and there is even more coloring, with the addition of colored washes as well, although the color palette is the same as the Harley, with its use of the light sepia, and high contrast green, blue, and red (with illuminated initials).

Anglo-Catalan w/painter 2
Anglo-Catalan w/painter 1
Finally the last of the copies is the Anglo-Catalan Psalter (Canterbury, ca.1180-1200 and the illustration was completed in Spain ca. 1340-50). There is a liberal amount of gold leaf here, the figures standing starkly against the background of solid gold leaf. However the illustrations were completed by someone with a completely different style (although not with any less gold leaf) almost a century after its beginning.

The gradual shift in decoration is very interesting with these books, and is a reflection of personal influences, as well as the changes in monastic book production. Different miniatores and illuminators that were probably a part of the monastery gave the drawings different interpretations, and then once we get to the last book it is done around a time when the practice of free-lance artists to paint and illustrate books became prevalent we see a whole change in style in the images (and once in that same book) than we had seen until then.

Focusing now on the Eadwine Psalter, let us take a closer look at the inclusion of all three versions of the psalms: the Gallicanum, the Romanum (with Old English glosses), and the Hebraicum (with Anglo-Norman/French glosses). The page layout for most of the codex is much more complex than the previous copy or the Utrecht Psalter, with a system of three columns, one column is the width of the other two combined and is written in a different size than the others (the Gall one having around 18 lines per page while the others have about 36 per page); this is the one that is the Gallicanum version and the abbreviation Gall is on the bottom of the page (although sometimes it was on the top. The other two versions have similar abbreviations at the bottom to mark which one is written where. There are interlinear glosses for each of the three columns as well as space left above or below for additional glosses and plenty of margin space around the large column.

The rubrics for all three columns is in red (or sometimes gold) and just because the other two are smaller does not necessarily mean that their illuminated initials are any less ornate or detailed, they differ more in size than anything else. While there may be a large amount of different texts being used on the same page it does not seem cluttered or chaotic at all, in fact throughout the codex (with the exceptions of the two instances f.1-4 and f.275-82 where a different person did the layout) there is a great sense of uniformity and clarity. It also probably helps that the vellum used is of very high quality, premium calf vellum that was cut with a lot of waste so that only the flattest, smoothest parts were used. The amount of pages is very impressive considering the size of the manuscript, 455mm x 326mm (roughly 18in x 13in).

The script itself is a hybrid English Vernacular Miniscule with elements from Carolingian scripts and insular ones, and is beautifully done throughout the book. The main text’s script is thick and formal while the smaller writing of the various glosses is thinner and smaller in size. The scribes were chosen so that there would be little deviation in handwriting in order to make the text seem more uniform throughout the entire codex. The ink is sometimes a dark walnut gall ink or sometimes a carbon black for the main text, however the glosses seem to be in a medium brown gall ink.
(from the left) Gallic version w/interlinear Latin gloss; column Latin of gloss; Roman version w/Old English interlinear gloss; Hebrew version w/Anglo-French interlinear gloss.
While there is a definite shift in style in the drawings of the Eadwine Psalter from the whimsical wispy drawings of the Utrecht Psalter it still shows the influence of those drawings in the composition of the new drawings. This may in part be from the use of washes and colored inks leading to more solid figures and also undoubtedly because of the different painters involved in painting it. We do see a similarity between the two drawing styles in the landscapes which are still very cloud-like. And while the drawings in the Eadwine do not seem to be replicas of those in the Utrecht they do seem to be using the Utrecht drawings for a basis of the content of the drawings (as well as the actual psalms themselves). Take a look at the first page of psalms of each of these:

In the left we see angels on top of clouds throwing spears down at the soldiers below them; also in the clouds we have a figure of God holding out his right hand pointing his index and middle fingers. In the middle we have a hill with groups of soldiers on either sides holding spears with another haloed figure on top of the hill holding a long rod or branch or some kind in his right hand, the rod pointing downwards. And in the upper right corner we have the hand of God coming out of the heavens. Even the placement of trees are the same in these two images.


  1. The illustrations in this psalter are really interesting. I like how geometric they are. The rich colors in the Anglo-Catalan Psalter are also very interesting, it highlights the artwork giving it an almost three dimensional feel. I like how over time the professionalism of the manuscripts increases goes on in our course. They certainly appear to be more cleaned up and easier to read. The hybrid English Vernacular Miniscule is certainly very beautiful. I wonder if there has ever been any study’s done concerning the amount of time it takes for a monastery in isolation to develop its own form of script.
    The dynamics of self-sufficiency in the monastery’s is also very interesting as well, I noticed you mentioned brown walnut gall ink and I wonder how difficult it was for monastery’s to provide for themselves the materials to copy and produce manuscripts independently. Although I know most monasteries were not totally isolated as the stereotype would suggest, I am interested in the full dynamic of supply and isolation. I suppose that it would probably very greatly depending on the location of the monastery themselves.
    As always the biblical illustrations are always very interesting to me, the figures facial expressions are hilarious.

  2. I personally enjoy the evolving of the decoration and writing. The first Psalter was simple with the same brown writing because it was the earliest. The second adds a little more color to the mix and a little more design to the drawing. The third is better yet still. The fourth is like an explosion of culture in the colors, designs, and language. I agree with the other comment that the professionalism seems to adapt as the time goes on. But I also disagree because it could have been the best the scribes and illuminators could have done at the time. I also would like to know what happened during these changes, like did the monastery where they were written get a cultural renaissance of its own? I love how the third Psalter gains a gloss too it. It suggests that others are actually reading the book and that its purpose is too read it. This is unlike the first Psalter, where it seemed to serve as a reading material for someone else or something of a faint copy. I am glad you gave background to the other Psalter’s before going deep into the Eadwine Psalter because it gave context.

  3. What I find incredible about this manuscript is the fact that it was copied in three different languages. But in a way, I’m a little confused by this as well. In class lately, we’ve been discussing how the stereotype that monasteries throughout medieval Europe were reclusive and disconnected from each other is completely wrong, and my intuition suggests that, if anything, the multilinguality of the Eadwine Psalter perfectly would illustrate the true interconnectedness of these monasteries. If the book was copied with the intention of staying in one place, why bother with Latin, Anglo-French, AND Old English? However, to the best of my knowledge, Canterbury Cathedral remained fairly protective of this manuscript until it was donated to Trinity College at Cambridge in the seventeenth century.

    A possible answer to this question is that, as the book was designed to be stunning in a number of ways already (e.g. the stunning illustrations and the impeccable attention to detail), the designers decided that adding versions of the text in other languages was a small price to pay in order to create a manuscript that was so visually and textually beautiful that we would still be discussing it centuries later.

  4. I really like the images in this Eadwine Psalter, particularly the page of Eadwine on fol. 283v, which deserves to be considered along with the discussion of the images in this psalter. While there is still a prominent influence from the Utrecht gospel being shown through this manuscript, it definitely has a different feel to it. The portrait of Eadwine displays this feeling the best to me. That same element of wispy figures is apparent a little, but the main thing that I noticed in the images, was the use of a softer color palette in the portrait. While the portrait still has the dark, rich blue background, the greens and reds are softer, and are not as harsh to look at. The swirling pattern in the clothes of Eadwine accent the green and red folds in his clothes. The unnatural use of color on the figure, such as the green shading on his face, is also notable.

    This portrait depicting the namesake of the psalter itself, makes it have a clear link to the person it was made to honor. The level of detail and the colors used, makes it a visually striking image to look at, and would definitely grab the attention of the reader as they were flipping through the pages.