A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Anglo-Catalan Psalter

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Lat. 8846

This is one of three distinctive psalters made in Canterbury using the Utrecht Psalter as a model. Like its predecessor, the Anglo-Catalan Psalter was also taken far from its point of origin in the Middle Ages; by the early 14th century the codex was in Catalonia, where the Spanish artists in the circle of Ferrer Bassa – who had brought new styles from Florence and Siena to the court of Aragon – completed its pictures in a distinctly Renaissance style. The manuscript thus united the work of English artists following Carolingian models and the work of Spanish artists emulating Italian art. Its unique hybridity reflects the fluidity with which the book passed through different regions; it arrived in France around 1400 and belonged to a series of eminent book collectors, including Jean, Duke of Berry, before entering the French national library in the 19th century.

These photographs were chosen to demonstrate the relationship between the Anglo-Catalan and Utrecht Psalters. In both books a detail in the illustration for Psalm 17 features the Mouth of Hell, depicted in wholly different styles and yet set at similar angles; the hapless souls within seem to lament that “the sorrows of hell encompass me.” Herds of deer on a hillock above Hell echo another verse that describes a divine power “who hath made my feet like the feet of harts and who setteth me upon high places.” Another illustration shows herds of cattle, flocks of birds, and schools of fish; these images remind readers of the words of Psalm 8: “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields, the birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea.”

The digitizations of the Anglo-Catalan and Utrecht Psalters make it possible to see these comparisons online, but the facsimiles replicate the two manuscripts to scale and allow readers to recreate the juxtaposition much more easily. Turning the pages of the books side by side highlights both the similarities of their compositions and the important differences in their visual effects.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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