The Psalter of Robert de Lisle (London, British Library, Arundel 83 II, fols. 117r-135v) is a preeminent example of English Gothic illumination. The manuscript survives in a fragment of thirty-eight pages illuminated throughout, containing Sarum calendar, the liturgy used in the English churches, and twenty-four miniatures.
Nine pages show scenes of Christ’s life. Interpolated in this cycle are full-page illuminations of the Virgin and Child facing the Crucifixion and thirteen illustrations of moral and theological content.
Charts and diagrams illustrate the Speculum Theologiae with didactic material such as the Sphere of John Peckham, the Wheel of the Twelve Attributes of Human Existence, the Table of the Ten Commandments, material that rarely appears in a devotional book.
The exceptional content along with the richness of its miniatures in elegant linear style make this book an extremely fascinating example of English illumination.
The Psalter of Robert De Lisle: A Secular Patronage in a Religious Context
The psalter provides evidence that the book itself was produced in the years 1330-39 for the Baron Robert de Lisle.
On the 25 November, the calendar contains an inscription recording its gift in 1339 by Robert to his daughter Audry and her sister Alborou and after their deaths to the Gilbertine priory of Chicksands, Bedfordshire.
Robert de Lisle was Peer to the Parliament, owner of real estates, and a man at service of the kings Edward II and Edward III. In 1341, he entered the Franciscan convent of Greyfriars, London. Thus, the manuscript provides important information about the status of nobility, their increasing literacy and their religiosity.
The decoration of the Psalter of Robert de Lisle intersects personal meditation of lay people with mendicant devotional practice. The inscription should also alert us to the role played by women in later medieval culture.
The Madonna Master and the Majesty Master
Since 1970, scholars have established the participation of two main artists: the Madonna Master, named after his main illumination in the manuscript, and the Majesty Master. The Madonna Master has been related to wall paintings in the sedilia at Westminster Abbey.
This illuminator painted the scenes of the life of Christ along with the theological diagrams. He made the miniatures in the Psalter of Robert de Lisle two decades before the Majesty Master worked on the manuscript. The reason why the De Lisle Psalter was interrupted for about twenty years is still unknown.
In 1330 the cycle illuminated by the Madonna Master was completed by the Majesty Master, who added five full-page miniatures, including the Maiestas Domini. This artist was influenced by Parisian works associated with Jean Pucelle.
His miniatures at once convey the plastic effect of sculpture along with the lightness provided by the use of bright colors; the effect is particularly exemplified in the scenes of the Ascension, the Pentecost and the Coronation of the Virgin.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "De Lisle Psalter":