A Psalter in Old French translation, with Latin rubrics, illuminated manuscript on parchment. [Northern France (probably Paris)], first half of 14th century. 215 x 155mm, 61 leaves (plus a modern paper endleaf at front and back), wanting a single leaf from fourth gathering, else complete, collation: i-iii8, iv7 (wants first leaf), v8, vi6, vii8, viii6, ix8, horizontal catchwords, single column of 29 lines of a rounded vernacular bookhand, red rubrics, one-line initials in red or pale blue, 2-line initials in gold on pink and blue grounds heightened with white penwork.
Many leaves with late medieval French additions in margins, five large historiated initials in pink or blue, heightened with white penwork, before tessellated or gold backgrounds, and within thin gold frames and with foliate extensions in margins terminating in coloured and gold fruit and foliage, these enclosing (i) fol. 12r, the anointing of David, (ii) fol. 19r, David pointing to his eye as God appears to him in the heavens above (with a long-beaked dragon-like animal in the border), (iii) fol. 30v, David naked in the waters (iv) fol. 39r, David laying the bells (with a grinning long-eared creature in the margin above him), (v) fol. 33r, the Trinity, the frontispiece with a large square miniature enclosing David before Goliath on a burnished gold ground, within a pink and blue decorated frame, extensions of coloured and gold bars along upper and inner edges of text block, these with foliage and triangular protuberances, one long curving foliate shoot across bas-de- page supporting two squat trees and a hound chasing a white hare, the latter looking over his shoulder at his pursuer.
Some leaves with original flaws to parchment, first leaf discoloured and much scuffed with serious losses to initial and opening text there, two further initials rubbed (those on fols. 30v and 33r), most leaves with stains from old water-damage, this leading to numerous hard to read areas with leaves at front and back of volume, overall fair condition.
Bound in nineteenth- or early twentieth-century green velvet over pasteboards, this rubbed at corners.
- Written and illuminated in France in the fourteenth century, perhaps for a wealthy patron: most large Biblical codices in French were produced for the devotions of secular aristocratic owners, or female ecclesiastics; the endleaves at the back filled with contemporary and near- contemporary instructions in French on the use of the volume during certain feasts and services.
- Most probably surviving the Middle Ages in a monastic or cathedral library, with the numerous additions demonstrating use then, and then entering private hands during the Secularisation: with the initials ‘I.F.D.S’ in bas-de-page of frontispiece in an apparent eighteenth-century hand.
The Psalter was the first book of the Bible to circulate in French prose. The original early twelfth-century translation into Anglo-Norman French was based on Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter, and formed the basis of several French versions on both sides of the Channel. That here opens Psalm 1 with “[Boin eures] est li hons qui [nala p]as el conseil [des] felons” and ends Psalm 150 with “… chose qui a esprit loes nostre seigneur”. It provided the basis of the Psalter in the first complete Bible in French, compiled and translated in the thirteenth century and so usually known as the Bible du XIIIe siècle. While the earliest manuscripts to survive date to the end of the thirteenth century, the text probably reached a final form by about 1260 in Paris, or just perhaps Orléans (see C. Sneddon, ‘On the creation of the Old French Bible’, Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, 46 (2002), pp. 25-44, and ‘The Bible du XIIIe siècle: its medieval public in the light of its manuscript tradition’, in The Bible and Medieval Culture, 1979, pp. 127-40), in part driven on by the Dominican Order and their mission of lay instruction.
They are far from common on the market, with the last recorded copies offered by Les Enlumineres, Text Manuscripts 2, Before the King James’ Bible (2012), no. 16; Laurent Coulet, cat. 29 (2003), no. 29; and a slim volume of 27 leaves, probably abstracted from a larger Bible, sold by Christie’s, 30 April 2008, lot 165, for £18,500.
Additional photographs are available on request. An export Licence will be supplied for overseas buyers.