The St. Albans Psalter
This beautiful 12th Century manuscript is both fascinating and incredibly unique as, although it is very early – dated 1123- 1135, a great deal is known about who it was commissioned for and why.
It was commissioned by the Abbot of St. Albans Geoffrey de Gorham as a gift for his platonic friend Christina of Markyate. Christina was an Anglo Saxon nun who had fled from an arranged marriage to live a life devoted to God. She came to live at a hermitage near Markyate and from there she became both the Abbot’s close friend and Mentee.
In addition to the 150 Latin Psalms (Gallican version), the calendar at the beginning and the litany and prayers at the end of the book, the St. Albans Psalter includes two further quite unusual texts: the Life of St. Alexis and a letter of Pope Gregory the Great in which he defends the variety of images as a teaching aid.
The impressive picture cycle was created by the main artist of the Psalter, the “Alexis Master”. The rich sequence of scenes introducing the book is distinguished by strong body colour painting, and by elegant, extremely elongated figures that are mostly shown in profile. The artist shaped the tender bodies using a complex system of deep colour shades and lines of light derived from Byzantine models. The backgrounds are composed of blocks of colour and include complicated architectural elements. His work is clearly influenced by Ottonian art. Blue, green and purple dominate each single composition of the English picture cycle. All miniatures are set in a golden frame, which is in turn filled with opulent meandering bands of a sheer incredible variety.
Thanks to this stunning facsimile edition by Verlag Müller und Schindler, the manuscript from the Hildesheim Dombibliothek in the St. Godehard basilica and the singleton from the same volume, now preserved in the Schnütgen Museum, are brought together in a single work. The facsimile is limited to 1,125 numbered copies worldwide and is presented in a leather bound case with a commentary volume with articles by Jane Geddes and Peter Kidd.