A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Luttrell Psalter

London, British Library, Add MS 42130

These margins are filled with astonishing creatures that defy easy analysis: at first glance they seem entirely absurd, but in many instances the inventive decorations offer clever responses to the contents of the text. Some details seem drawn from older sources, like the Roman historian Pliny’s description of the ‘monstrous races’ thought to inhabit the distant edges of the earth, but most seem to be the free inventions of the illuminators. In the lower right corner of this opening, a woman with amphibian feet evokes an ancient siren; she seems to wave at a huntsman in the opposite corner who watches as a dog stalks a goose, perhaps a reference to the words of Psalm 34, ‘his ears are attentive to their cry.’

Such illustrations must have appealed to the book’s patron Geoffrey Luttrell, a member of the landed gentry, though it is unknown if he saw the creatures as whimsical objects of entertainment, unsettling warnings of divine wrath, or both. The facsimile displays not only the tremendous variety of images in the book but also its unusually large size. Unlike the Parma and Saint Rupert Psalters in this section, which seem decidedly personal in scale, the oversized Luttrell Psalter may have been used communally, perhaps for reading together with other members of the household.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of the British Library.

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