For one of my MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), one of my assignments was to analyze a visual image.
It was kind of normal for me, as I had to analyze manuscripts when I did my Medieval Studies MA. But this time, we had to speak about expertise. We could choose any image, but naturally, I chose a medieval. But it was not my normal kind, as I specialize in medieval drama and music.
This time, I wanted to do something slightly different.
I chose the Luttrell Psalter, a beautiful illuminated manuscript. I chose this particular scene, as it is currently harvest time (or have we just missed that?). Below, I post my essay, since I chose an historical image, so it has relevence here, I believe.
A Visual Analysis of The Luttrell Psalter: Psalm 95 – 96, ff. 172v, c.14th Century. MS 42130, pp. 23-24.
The Luttrell Psalter is a beautiful illuminated manuscript, which depicts the traditional yesteryear of medieval life, and offers a rare glimpse into the medieval mind. It is an extremely unique book, because is a volume containing a book of psalms, 150 ancient songs, all written in Latin. As well as acting almost like a documentary, it also serves as a bestiary at the same time. This is unique, because psalters traditionally contain religious images. The pictures here are beautifully drawn, and full of humorous character, depicting old “merrie Englande” (www.bl.uk), for a whole year on an estate. While it offers great insight into the yesteryear of medieval life, it may not be completely realistic, as the images could have been drawn to please the commissioner.
Between 1320 and 1340, a wealthy landowner in Lincolnshire named Geoffrey Luttrell, England, commissioned this manuscript. Because of this, modern scholars have named it after him (www.bl.uk). He desired this commission, because he wished for twenty chaplains to recite masses for him, after his death, and over a five-year period (Brown, 2006, 24) I argue that he possibly commissioned this in order to educate his family, as psalters were often used as tools to learn to read. Throughout the Middle Ages, Latin was the language of the church, and an expertise on its own. Only the educated could read Latin, which poses the question that the Luttrell family must have been very educated, and possess the ability to read Latin psalms.
The Luttrell Psalter was drawn on vellum, which is a fine type of parchment. These two pages, 24-25 (172v – 173), show the art on the other side is visibly bleeding through. The Latin Gothic text is decorated vibrantly, with each capital letters decorated more extravagantly, and squares of decoration in between each paragraph. The largest capital on the right page – the capital D, the start of Dominus – has leaves drawn inside of it. Around the edges of the pages, there are boarders, and foliage, bearing leaves, flowers, and berries.
The most striking aspect of these two pages is not the Latin Gothic script, but the vibrant images. Accompanying Psalm 95, Verse 12 – “The fields and all in them, rejoice” – the images depict the gathering of the ripe corn in the fields: a very important task undertaken every harvest by every community member. There are two groups, all in colourful and traditional medieval dress with some wearing wimples, working the fields. On the left-hand side, there are two women cutting the ripe corn with the sickle, while another man follows them, collecting the fallen corn, and arranging them into sheaves. Another man, also holding a sickle, looks day dreamily up into the sky. The corn gatherer does not look pleased with his being lackadaisical co-worker! On the right-hand side, a group of men are placing the sheaves in a pile. This group is much more hard at work, although the man at the top of the pile looks wary of one co-worker, who looks like he may disrupt the pile, and undo all the hard work.
The other notable images are the two mythical creatures on either side of the manuscripts. The left is a rabbit, standing up with webbed feet and wings, dressed in a blue cloth; the right is a blue fish with red human legs and feet, also draped in a yellow cloth. These images demonstrate the medieval mind, and their beliefs of the time. During the medieval period, animal stories were very popular, (www.bestiary.ca) and these fictional animals were the forefront of the medieval mind, although these creatures had never actually been seen. It could also be argued that the one would need to have acquired expertise in these animals, in order to be able to draw them.
A great deal of expertise, and knowledge, would have gone into this manuscript. At least one scribe, and five artists, would have created the Luttrell Psalter (www.bl.uk). However, their names are unknown. They would have had highly-trained skills that enables them to bind the parchment together, plan and outline the pages, write in Latin, draw such images, and paint with gold or silver leaf (www.getty.edu). Each artist would have word specifically on one aspect, be it preparing the space for drawing, or designing the images, or writing the Latin. Only the selected few, usually monks or nuns, would have possessed the skills that enable them to make manuscripts (www2.uncp.edu/), as it was often their way of earning a living. It would have been a long laborious process, which requires a great deal of proficiency.
Out of the two, I argue that the scribes who worked on the manuscript demonstrate great expertise, more so than the commissioner, although he may have possessed could have had knowledge for ordering such a project. This kind of skill, and knowledge, has now long since died out; therefore, it remains a very special and exclusive kind of expertise.
Ed. 14th Jan 2015: After I wrote this, I had to do a case study, which led to further research. In the midst of that, I found a video by Getty Museums on YouTube, explaining out to make a manuscript.
Excellent job. If I lived in the medieval era, I would want to do this!
Unknown, “Psalm 95 - 96, ff. 172v” The Luttrell Psalter: c.1320-40. MS 42130, pp. 23-24. British Library website, 25 Oct. 2014. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/luttrell/accessible/pages23and24.html#content>
The British Library, The Luttrell Psalter, British Library website. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/luttrellpsalter.html>
David Badke, The Medieval Bestiary, <http://bestiary.ca/intro.htm> 25 Oct. 2014.
Michelle P Brown, The World of the Luttrell Psalter, London: The British Library, 2006.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, The Making of a Medieval Book. 1 Nov. 2014.<http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/making/>
Josh McPherson, et al., What Is A Manuscript? 1 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/markport/lit/introlit/ms.htm>