Psalters

As explained on the Psalter page, Psalters are manuscripts containing the Book of Psalms from the Bible and sometimes other materials for liturgical or devotional use. Here we’re looking at a Psalter called the Burnet Psalter, held at the University Library Aberdeen (AUL MS 25). The manuscript is from the fifteenth century and, in addition to the Psalms, in its over 300 leaves, contains a calendar, many devotions, commemorations of the saints, prayers of and to St. Bridget and other miscellaneous prayers, salutations to the Holy Trinity, office of the dead, litany, Books of Hours, and more. Because of its date, it falls into the Gothic category (as does the bestiary we look at on another page), and its pages show many of the features of this type of manuscript: it has the Hours, strong reds and blues in its imagery, and stained-glass decoration in its margins throughout.

Folio 125r of the Burnet Psalter – Psalm 1, with historiated initial of King David and harp.

Above is Folio 125r of the Burnet Psalter, upon which is written Psalm 1 and five words from Psalm 2. Because many of the early psalms are attributed to him, King David kneeling with a harp in devotion is drawn as a historiated initial letter B. David dons a blue robe, a white and red cape, and a crown, and a moon appears through a window in the sky outside the window above what appears to be an altar. Psalm 2 begins, in contrast, with a decorated initial letter Q, also of blue, red, and bright gold. The text of the two psalms is surrounded by triangular shapes of red and blue on a thick, bright gold frame. Outside the frame, flowers of yellow, red, and blue with some green leaves are distributed throughout the marginal decorations.

Notably, there does not appear to be a hierarchy in the image historiated initial – King David is playing and singing to God directly, and there’s no mediator between the two.

Folio 291r of the Burnet Psalter – Hours of the Compassion of the Virgin, and Hymns

As mentioned, the voluminous Burnet Psalter was bound with many other devotional materials as well. Among these is the Hours of the Compassion of the Virgin, also known as the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, seen on the manuscript page below (Folio 291r). Below that is a hymn of praise to God, Te deum laudamus qui carnem induisti – “We praise God who became flesh.” The hymn has 13 lines, each with a decorated initial (often the letter Q in the word Qui, “Who”). The most elaborate decorated initials on the page are the T in te at the beginning of the hymn, and the D in deus in the beginning of the next verse at the bottom of the page. There are no figures present on the page, perhaps so as not to distract. Like on 125r, the margins are decorated with yellow, blue, and red flowers and green leaves, though the decorations on 291r are much more modest than those on 125r.

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