One of the most lavishly decorated and richly illuminated of the English Gothic manuscripts, the Peterborough Psalter in Brussels is the chief work of the "Fenland" group of manuscripts. Made between 1300 and 1318 for Abbot Geoffrey of Crowland, it contains over 150 illustrations among its splendid pages. Indeed, even pages of text glitter with gold lettering and are bejeweled with decorated initials and colorful borders. One hundred and nine quarter-page typological scenes fill twenty-eight pages, each one glowing with embossed gold backgrounds or finely detailed diapering.
This prized manuscript was gifted to the papal nuncio of Pope John XXI to England shortly after it was made and was owned by the royal book collectors of Europe. Even in the Middle Ages, it was recognized and admired for its luxurious quality. It remains among the finest Gothic manuscripts produced in England.
Abounding in Delightful Diversions and Sumptuous Sights
Few manuscripts equal the Peterborough Psalter in terms of its lavish materials and extent of illumination. From twenty-eight full-page typological miniatures to the line-filling drolleries to the decoration of even the most minor initial, there is no page without ornament. Even the stalwart black ink for the text has been eschewed for vibrant blue and gleaming gold.
Thirty-nine historiated initials grace the text and ebullient borders are inhabited with dragons and damsels, hunters and hares. Within its pages are the ordinary and the extraordinary all rendered with an enchanting exuberance that delights to this day.
The Jewel of the Fenland Atelier
A group of manuscripts, which includes the Peterborough Psalter in Brussels, the Ramsey Psalter, the Gough Psalter, the Barcow Psalter, and the Canonici and Crowland Apocalypses, is the work of a community of artist who worked collaboratively to create a cohesive style of manuscript.
The atelier, likely headed by "Master A", who illuminated the initial folios of the Peterborough Psalter, had at least five illuminators and received commissions from patrons throughout East Anglia. "Master B", who executed the majority of the work, also illuminated the Ramsey Psalter.
A Book Owned by Popes and Kings
Likely commissioned by Abbot Geoffrey of Crowland at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Peterborough Psalter was gifted to Cardinal Gaucelin d'Euse, who was serving as the papal nuncio to England and who was also the uncle of Pope John XXII.
It was Pope Jean who himself gave the book to Philip VI of France. It entered the collection of Charles V of France and then passed to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy during which time the armorial shields were added to the typological pages.
The manuscript is currently bound in red leather with a foliate gold embossed border.