De Lisle Psalter: unfinished masterpiece or fragment?


The De Lisle Psalter is indeed a great monument of the European Gothic style and among the finest manuscripts displayed at the British Library.

The Psalter of Robert de Lisle is indeed a great monument of the European Gothic style and among the finest manuscripts displayed in the British Library’s permanent exhibition at the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, among other highlights of the world’s cultural heritage such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Bedford Hours, and the Golden Haggadah.

The Psalter of Robert de Lisle comprises 38 pages illuminated throughout with 33 partly full-page single miniatures depicting biblical scenes, an interspersed Speculum Theologiae made up of 12 illustrated full-page theological charts, another schematic representation without figural decoration and a beautifully illuminated calendar at the beginning of the book. It has been suggested that this picture sequence was once the magnificent introduction for a Psalter whose textual pages have been lost or were perhaps never executed.

Read more about De Lisle Psalter, facsimile edition

De Lisle Psalter, facsimile edition

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Unfinished masterpiece or fragment?

This question will never be answered since the leaves have come down to us as singletons, rather than in the form of assembled quires. In the late 16th century, perhaps also in the early years of the 17th century, the Book was bound with a Psalter that was bequeathed to the Royal Society in London in 1667. The British Museum purchased the manuscript in 1831, then titled Howard Psalter-Hours which, due to the integrated Psalter, counts today among the most valuable holdings of the British Library.

De Lisle Psalter Arundel 83 II − British Library, facsimile edition

Select bibliography

(Courtesy of the British Library – View the record for the De Lisle at the BL website)

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Walter de Gray Birch and Henry Jenner, Early Drawings and Illuminations: An Introduction to the Study of Illustrated Manuscripts (London: Bagster and Sons, 1879), p. 8.

George F. Warner, Illuminated Manuscripts in The British Museum, Series I-IV (London: British Museum, 1903), pl. 31.

Christopher Wordsworth and Henry Littlehales, The Old Service-Books of the English Church, 2nd edn (London: Methuen & Co., 1910), pl. VIII.

J. A. Herbert, Illuminated Manuscripts (London: Methuen, 1911), p. 224, pl. XXXIII. 

John Bradley, Illuminated Manuscripts, 2nd edn (London: Bracken Books, 1920), p. 274 no. 6. 

Schools of Illumination: Reproductions from Manuscripts in the British Museum, 6 vols (London: British Museum, 1914-1930), III (1921), pls 1-4.

[J. A. Herbert], British Museum: Reproductions from Illuminated Manuscripts, Series 3, 3rd edn (London: British Museum, 1925), pls 23-25. 

Eric. G. Millar, English Illuminated Manuscripts of the XIVth and XVth Century (Paris: Van Oest, 1928), pls 7-13. 

Guide to an Exhibition of English Art (London: British Museum, 1934), no. 122.

F. Saxl, ‘A Spiritual Encyclopedia of the Late Middle Ages’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 5 (1942), 82-134.

Arthur Watson, The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 70 n. 1. 

Peter Brieger, English Art 1216-1307, Oxford History of English Art, 4 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1957), pp. 224, 273, pl. 88b.

Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books, ed. by N. R. Ker, 2nd edn, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks, 3 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1964), p. 51.

Margaret Rickert, Painting in Britain: the Middle Ages, 2nd edn (London: Penguin Books, 1965), pp. 132-33, 137, 139, 151, 239 n. 13, 241 n. 44, 45, pl. 134.

Lilian M. C. Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966). p. 29.

Illuminated Manuscripts Exhibited in the Grenville Library (London, British Museum, 1967), no. 21.

Lucy Freeman Sandler, ‘A Follower of Jean Pucelle in England’, Art Bulletin, 52, 4 (1970), 363-72 (pp. 364-72, pls. 6-10). 

Peter Brieger, ‘England’, in Art and the Courts: France and England from 1259 to 1328, The National Gallery of Canada, 1972 (Ottowa: National Gallery, 1972), pp. 28-49 (pp. 32, fig. 26). 

Lucy Freeman Sandler, The Peterborough Psalter in Brussels and other Fenland Manuscripts (London: Harvey Miller, 1974).

Lucy Freeman Sandler, ‘An Early Fourteenth-Century English Breviary at Longleat’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 39 (1976), 1-20 (pp. 11-14).

François Avril, L’enluminure à l’époque gothique 1200-1420 (Paris: Famot, 1979), pp. 95-96.

Richard Marks and Nigel Morgan, The Golden Age of English Manuscript Painting 1200-1500 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1981), pl. 22. 

Brunsdon Yapp, Birds in Medieval Manuscripts (London: British Library, 1981), pl. 27.

Lucy Freemen Sandler, The Psalter of Robert de Lisle in the British Library (London: Harvey Miller, 1983).

John E. Murdoch, Album of Science: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. by I. B. Cohen (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1984), no. 21.

Lucy Freemen Sandler, Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385, Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles (Harvey Miller: London, 1986), no. 38 and 51.

Paul Binski, The Painted Chamber at Westminster (London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1986), pp. 79-80.

The Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagent England 1200-1400, ed. by Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1987), no. 569 [exhibition catalogue].

François Avril and Patricia Danz Stirnemann, Manuscrits enluminés d’origine insulaire VIIe-XXe siècle (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1987), p. 137.

Christopher Norton, Dominican Painting in East Anglia: The Thornham Parva Retable and the Musée de Cluny Frontal (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1987). 

M. A. Michael, ‘Oxford, Cambridge and London: Towards a Theory for ‘Grouping’ Gothic Manuscripts’, Burlington Magazine, 130 (1988), 107-15 (p. 113).

Judith H. Oliver, Gothic Manuscript Illumination in the Diocese of Liège (c. 1250 – c. 1330), Corpus of Illuminated Manuscripts from the Low Countries, 2-3, 2 vols (Leuven: Uitgverij Peeters, 1988), I, 76 n. 68.

Jennifer O’Reilly, Studies in the Iconography of the Virtues and the Vices in the Middle Ages (New York: Garland, 1988, print of an unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Nottinham, 1972), pp. 375-76.

François Avril, L’enluminure à l’époque gothique 1200-1420 (n. pl.: Bibliotheque de l’image, 1979), p. 96.

John E. Murdoch, Album of Science: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. by I. B. Cohen (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1984), nos 21, 45, 58, 276.

Francis Wormald, Collected Writings, ed. by J. J. G. Alexander, T. J. Brown, and Joan Gibbs, 2 vols (London: Harvey Miller, 1984-1988), II: Studies in English and Continental Art of the Later Middle Ages, p. 86.

Adelaide Bennett, ‘A Book Designed for a Noblewoman, in Medieval Book Production: Assessing the Evidence, ed. by Linda l. Brownrigg, Proceedings of the Second Conference of The Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, July 1988 (Los Altos Hills, California: Anderson-Levelace, 1990), pp 1163-81 (p. 179 n. 11.)

Nigel Morgan, ‘Texts and Images of Marian Devotion in Fourteenth-Century England’, in England in the Fourteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1991 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. by. Nicholas Rogers (Stamford: Watkins, 1993), pp. 30-53 (p. 41).

Paul Binski, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: Kingship and The Representation of Power, 1200-1400 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 171-73, 181.

Robert W. Scheller, Exemplum: Model-Book Drawings and the Practice of Artistic Transmission in the Middle Ages (ca. 900 – ca. 1450), (Amsterdam: University Press, 1995), p. 209 n. 10.

Paul Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation (London: British Museum Press, 1996), p. 171.

Janet Backhouse, The Illuminated Page: Ten Centuries of Manuscript Painting in the British Library (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997, no. 82.

Nicolas Bell, Music in Medieval Manuscripts (London: British Library, 2001), p. 47.

Christopher de Hamel, The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination: History and Techniques (London: British Library, 2001), pl. 30.

Mary Coker Joslin and Carolyn Coker Joslin Watson, The Egerton Genesis (London: British Library, 2001), pp. 31, 163, 167, 192, 199.

Susanne Rischpler, Biblia Sacra figuris expressa: Mnemotechnische Bilderbibeln des 15. Jahrhunderts, Wissensliteratur im Mittelalter, 36, ed. by Horst Brunner and others (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2001), p. 43.

C. M. Kauffmann, Biblical Imagery in Medieval England 700-1500 (London: Harvey Miller, 2003), p. 230.

Paul Binski, Becket’s Crown: Art and Imagination in Gothic England 1170-1300 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), pls 146, 157.

Maidie Hilmo, Medieval Images, Icons, and Illustrated English Literary Texts: From the Ruthwell Cross to the Ellesmere Chaucer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), p. 185 n. 89.

Lucy Freeman Sandler, The Lichtenthal Psalter and the Manuscript Patronage of the Bohun Family (London: Harvey Miller, 2004), p. 159 n. 87.

The Cambridge Illuminations: Ten Centuries of Book Production in the Medieval West, ed. by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (London: Harvey Miller, 2005), pp. 80, 191.

Treasures of the British Library, ed. by Nicolas Barker and others (London: British Library, 2005), p. 125.

Greg Buzwell, Saints in Medieval Manuscripts (London: British Library, 2005), p. 27.

Richard Ovenden, ‘The libraries of the antiquaries (c. 1580-1640) and the idea of a national collection’, in The Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland, ed. by Elisabeth Leedham-Green and Teresa Webber, 3 vols (Cambridge: University Press, 2006), Vol I: To 1640, pp. 527-61 (pp. 541-43).

Deirdre Jackson, Marvellous to Behold: Miracles in Medieval Manuscripts (London: British Library, 2007), pl. 3.

Scot McKendrick and Kathleen Doyle, Bible Manuscripts: 1400 Years of Scribes and Scripture (London: British Library, 2007), p. 129, fig. 116.