A Gothic psalter for the rare use of Auxerre with playful marginal decoration
6 Psalter for the use of AuxerreIlluminated manuscript on vellum. France, Auxerre, c. 1300.
205 x 138 mm. 128 leaves, complete: I6, II-XI12, XII2 – Written space: 152 x 86 mm, 30 lines, calendar in a single column, text in double columns, ruled in brown.Written in a neat Gothic Textura in brown ink. Musical notation throughout on four red staves – Two- and three-line initials in red and blue with contrasting penwork decoration. Text opened by calligraphic initials infilled with yellow, 12 calendar leaves with decorative initials with shorter extensions, 8 seven- to eight-line historiated initials with full-page border extensions. – 17th- and 18th-century manuscript entries on the front flyleaf.At the beginning and from fol. 117 until the end a few wormholes. – Late 15th-century blind-tooled dark brown calf over wooden boards; spine renewed (19th century?). Paper endleaves including 4 flyleaves (1 in front, 3 at end). In a modern half leather drop back box.
PROVENANCE: 1. Made for the use of Auxerre as the entry for the feast of the consecration of the cathedral of Notre Dame of Auxerre indicates: “Dedicatio huius ecclesiae festum solenne” (8 July) respectively “Palladii ep.Autissiodori et confessoris” on 10 April.The cathedral of Notre Dame of Auxerre was consecrated by bishop Aymeric Guenand in 1334. The entry in the calendar is by another, slightly later hand and therefore provides us with a terminus ante quem for the production of this psalter. 2. Francis Henry Dickinson, his sale at Sotheby’s, 10 Nov. 1886, lot 249. 3. Athelstan Riley, his bookplate “Athelstan Riley. Seigneur de la Trinité” on the front pastedown and a handwritten entry of ownership on the flyleaf as well as the entry from the sales catalogue pasted in on the front flyleaf. 4. Friedrich Georg Zeileis, his bookplate on the back pastedown.
TEXT: fol. 1-6v: Calendar – fol. 7-16v: Invitatory – fol. 17- 124v: Ferial Psalter with canticles – fol. 124v-127v: Litany – fol. 128:Three readings for Advent. The present manuscript is one of the rare psalters made for the use of Auxerre; Leroquais (p. 58f.) lists only one late 14th-century copy in the Bibliothèque municipale of Auxerre (ms. 56).
ILLUMINATION: fol. 19v: David playing the psaltery – fol. 33v: David pointing to his eyes – fol. 45v: David pointing to his mouth – fol. 54: The fool (slightly rubbed) – fol. 63: David sitting in the water, God blessing – fol. 74: David playing bells – fol. 84v: Four monks singing – fol. 96: God the Father and Christ. The illumination comprises KL-ligatures in the calendar in gold, red, mauve and blue, with ivyleaf and bar baguette border extensions, the letter A (lettera dominicalis) in gold, on blue or pink ground and eight historiated initials.They show the author of the psalms, the fool and monks singing as well as God the Father and Christ. The charm of this psalter does not exclusively rest upon the historiated initials. The drolleries in the margins greatly contribute to the visual appeal of the illumination. The manuscript was created at a time when in France the marginal illumination of manuscripts of theological content developed into a highly creative style of decoration incorporating subjects drawn from daily life. Themes from the Scriptures or episodes in the lives of saints appear side by side with secular anecdotal details to create an inspiring contrast.David playing bells (fol. 74) is a good example of this type of marginal illumination. The historiated initial includes imagery that precisely corresponds to the conventional illustration pattern of this manuscript genre, yet already here a small joculator is climbing about on the ground. In the ivyleaf border a grotesque creature with a human head wearing a crown satirically alludes to the figure of King David while the ape sitting on the foliage extensions in the upper part of the outer margin symbolizes primitive desires. Thus the images in the margins offer witty comments on the theological subjects of the primary illumination. In view of this mingling of conventional pictorial elements with motifs lending a critical, playful or satirical connotation one might expect manuscripts incorporating marginal illumination of this kind to have been made exclusively for a lay clientele. Clerical dignitaries, however, likewise owned manuscripts incorporating this type of extravagant ornament. Not much information is available about illumination in Burgundy at that time.There are only a few manuscripts that can undoubtedly be located to this area. Among the codices published in reference literature that are of interest in the context of our psalter are a breviary made for the use of Saint-Bénigne in Dijon (Dijon, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 113) and another breviary in Baltimore (Walters Art Gallery,W. 109) made for the same diocese. Both manuscripts were recently dated to around 1300 (Leroquais once connected them with the name of Étienne de Broignon (d. 1294), a cellarer who is also recorded as an illuminator in a register of Saint-Béninge). In both breviaries we find the same type of ivyleaf decoration in the borders composed of spiky tendrils terminating in trefoil motifs. Although it is difficult to classify this stylistic variant of border decoration it could be postulated on the basis of close parallels that the psalter in question was also produced in a workshop in Burgundy. This place of origin is also suggested by the hesitant way in which the page layout corresponds to the border decoration, with tendrils spaciously surrounding the written space. On the other hand one could assume Paris as the place of origin. Further research could substantiate one or other of these propositions.
LITERATURE: Sales cat. Sotheby’s, 10 Nov. 1886, lot 249. Haseloff 1938; Leroquais 1940-41; Randall 1989, cat. no. 48; Zaluska 1991; exh. cat. Paris 1998, no. 221; Büttner 2004.