Sunday, 1 December 2019

Psalter Cuttings at Princeton and Yale, II

Attentive readers will have noticed several things about the cuttings shown in the previous post. First, the text on the backs of the initials demonstrate that the parent manuscript was written in very short lines (typically only three to five words per line). It must therefore have been written in two columns, as is confirmed by the back of this Yale cutting:
and this Princeton cutting:
In both cases, we can see the end of some lines of text which form part of a left-hand column, and parts of flourished initials that introduced verses in an adjacent right-hand column. (In both these cases, therefore, we know that the illuminated initial on the other side was in the right-hand column).

13th-century Psalters are rarely written in two columns.

Second, the illuminated initials are typically three lines high (but occasionally two lines high), as can be seen from the image of the Yale cutting above, and this image of the backs of all five Princeton cuttings:

The vast majority of medieval Psalters have a 1-line initial at the beginning of each verse, and a 2-line initial at the beginning of each psalm (with initials larger still for the eight or ten major divisions of the psalms). This is absolutely standard. Psalters with 3-line psalm initials are therefore unusual: typically they are exceptionally luxurious.

Third, not only are most of the initials larger than usual, but they all use gold and intricate designs.

Fourth, the script is a very high-grade, somewhere between "quadrata" and "prescissa":

Taken together, these features suggest that he parent volume of our cuttings was very fancy.

The style of the illumination, the script, the larger-than-usual psalm initials, and the overall level of luxury, reminded me of a Psalter at the Bodleian, MS. Ashmole 1525, and as it happens, it too is written in two columns. Its pages with just verse initials typically look like this:
and its pages with psalm initials look like this:

Initials with spiralling foliage do not occur often, but there are a few:

Likewise, while the Bodleian Psalter does not have any animals sitting upright and playing chess/checkers, it does have animals engaged in other human activities, such as this knife-juggling monkey:

I am not suggesting any direct connection with the Princeton-Yale cuttings, just a fairly close generic similarity.

We can get some way to determining the layout of the Princeton-Yale pages, by looking more closely at the only Beinecke cutting of which I have an image of the back:
A close look at the red verse initial to the right suggests that it is not simply the upright of a tall letter such as "b", "F", "P" or "L", but (as there is trace of a lower horizontal stroke, or upper bowl) is almost certainly an "I":
The oblique angle of the penwork decoration and descender of of the verse initial immediately above it, suggests that it was a letter "A":

We have already established that the text on this cutting is from the penultimate verse of Psalm 54:
"iacta super Dominum curam tuam et ipse te enutriet non dabit in aeternum fluctuationem iusto"
and that it must have been laid out in very short lines:
... Dominum curam tuam
et ipse te enutriet non da-
bit in aeternum fluctuatio-
nem ...
The illuminated initial on the other side is an "M", and we can be confident that this was the beginning of Psalm 56 ("Miserere mei Deus miserere mei ...") as no other psalm from Psalm 51 to Psalm 60 begins with M, except Psalm 55, but it cannot be this one, as there is only one verse between the text on the back and the beginning of Psalm 56.

We can therefore deduce that the text that occupied the now-missing lines, from the fragmentary words on the back to the initial on the front of the cutting, was Psalms 54:23-56:1; approximately these words:
[Psalm 54]
Dominum curam tuam et ipse te enutriet non dabit in aeternum fluctuationem iusto
Tu vero Deus deduces eos in puteum interitus viri sanguinum et doli non dimidiabunt dies suos ego autem sperabo in te Domine
[Psalm 55]
Miserere mei Deus quoniam conculcavit me homo tota die inpugnans tribulavit me
Conculcaverunt me inimici mei tota die quoniam multi bellantes adversum me
Ab altitudine diei timebo ego vero in te sperabo
In Deo laudabo sermones meos in Deo speravi non timebo quid faciat mihi caro
Tota die verba mea execrabantur adversum me omnia consilia eorum in malum
Inhabitabunt et abscondent ipsi calcaneum meum observabunt sicut sustinuerunt animam meam
Pro nihilo salvos facies illos in ira populos confringes Deus
Vitam meam adnuntiavi tibi posuisti lacrimas meas in conspectu tuo sicut et in promissione tua
Tunc convertentur inimici mei retrorsum in quacumque die invocavero te ecce cognovi quoniam Deus meus es
In Deo laudabo verbum in Domino laudabo sermonem in Deo speravi non timebo quid faciat mihi homo
In me sunt Deus vota tua; quae; reddam laudationes tibi
Quoniam eripuisti animam meam de morte et pedes meos de lapsu ut placeam coram Deo in lumine viventium
[Psalm 56]
Miserere mei Deus ...
From this we can see that the only verse that begins with an "I", preceded by a verse beginning with an "A", is verse 5 (in bold and highlighted above). This therefore tells us what was in the right-hand column adjacent to the surviving text, and allows us to deduce the overall layout of the leaf.

For the purposes of visualising the layout, let us call the four columns of text on a single leaf a and b (on the recto), c and d (on the verso).

If the illuminated initial "M" was at the top of its right-hand column, d, the text of Psalms 54:23-56:1 must have occupied columns a, b, and c, like this:

If, alternatively, the illuminated initial "M" was at the bottom of its right-hand column, d, the text of Psalms 54:23-56:1 must have occupied the upper part of d, all of c, and all of b, with the reverse being at the bottom of its left-hand column, a, like this:

Compared to the Bodleian Psalter, which has the unusually large number of 23 lines of text per column, it can be seen that the Yale-Princeton Psalter probably had a number much closer to the norm, between 15 and 20 lines: my (very rough) reconstruction suggests it might have had about 15 lines per column.

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