The Luttrell Psalter (British Library, Add MS 42130) is an illuminated psalter commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276–1345), lord of the manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire, written and illustrated on parchment circa 1320–1340 in England by anonymous scribes and artists.
Along with the psalms (beginning on folio 13 r.), the Luttrell Psalter contains a calendar (1 r.), canticles (259 v.), the Mass (283 v.) and an antiphon for the dead (295 r.). The pages vary in their degree of illumination, but many are richly covered with both decorated text and marginal pictures of saints and Bible stories, and scenes of rural life. It is considered one of the richest sources for visual depictions of everyday rural life in medieval England, even though the last folio is now lost.
The Psalter was acquired by the British Museum in 1929 for £31,500 from Mary Angela Noyes, wife of the poet Alfred Noyes, with the assistance of an interest-free loan from the American millionaire and art collector J. P. Morgan. It is now in the collection of the British Library in London, since the separation of the Library from the British Museum.
The Luttrell Psalter measures 350 x 245 mm. It is written in Latin and is composed of 309 high-quality vellum leaves with flyleaves of paper. Most of the pages are decorated in red paint with details in gold, silver and blind. The illustrations are stamped and tooled into the paper. The manuscript has eight cords which attach the pages together securely. It is sewn together and has a modern binding (post 1929) of dark brown Morocco leather. The scribes used ruling as a method of scribing, an expensive method. The scripts are fairly large. Each frame of the manuscript has about fourteen full lines of text. The strokes of the letters are flat and parallel to the writing line. This technique required a pen on which the nib is cut at an especially oblique angle, a "strange pen". Unlike earlier illuminated manuscripts, the first letter of the first word on the line, for approximately every two lines, are capitalized. Its style has many highlights and shadowing on the human figures, and its modelling of the human figure is more pronounced, muscular, and more life-like.
The illustrations within the manuscript display several scenes from Geoffrey Luttrell's life, regular daily activities around the town and many different curious figures combining animal and human parts. The Luttrell Psalter was a good illustration of everyday life in the Middle Ages. Aside from the common images of citizens and the Luttrell family, some images remain obscure but others can be related to the text beside which they are painted. It requires, however, the reader to have some understanding of the Latin sacred words. Most of the decorations around the margins are images of pure fantasy, figures of saints, and naturalistic motifs.
Luttrell wanted the drawings to reflect the current devotional, cultural, political, economic and dynastic aspirations that he and his family had. One drawing, for example, shows the remodelling of the Irnham parish church, emphasizing how he was preoccupied with his activities in preparation for his death.
The miniature of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell mounted on the horse wearing full armour beside his wife and daughter-in-law is a very powerful image in the Luttrell Psalter. It suggests that he wanted to be remembered for his youth and for his time spent in the military. The image also shows the Luttrell's family heraldry.
Servants preparing food and running errands are depicted along the margins of the manuscript to emphasize that they played a major role both socially and economically. Images of farming include both men and women to show that during harvest time all available labour was required.
Visual depictions of music-making form a large part of the Luttrell Psalter's iconography. People and hybrid creatures are represented singing poems, hymns and psalms as an expression of devotion. The Psalter therefore speaks of an integral aspect of everyday life in the fourteenth century. Music in the Middle Ages was not only used in clerical environments but was also, to some extent, employed to represent the devil and corruption. The Luttrell Psalter is interesting with regard to musical tradition in the Middle Ages because it tries to integrate both the religious and devilish side of the psalter to combine them "into the service of the sacred".
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