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Distributed for Bodleian Library Publishing

The Ormesby Psalter

Patrons and Artists in Medieval East Anglia

The Ormesby Psalter is one of the most well-known yet mysterious manuscripts to survive the Middle Ages. It was made in a series of campaigns over many decades, starting in the late-thirteenth century, and the main decorated pages were executed in the 1310s for a marriage that never took place. Likely meant for private devotion by its wealthy patrons, this exquisite book of psalms was left unfinished.

Housed in Oxford’s Bodleian Library for over 150 years, this enigmatic masterpiece is perhaps the most magnificent yet enigmatic of the great Gothic psalters produced in East Anglia in the first half of the fourteenth century. Manuscript expert Frederica C. E. Law-Turner places the psalter within a wider historical context and then deciphers its lush illuminations—scenes that vary wildly in tone from the comic to the bawdy to the mythic. Full-color photographs illustrate the text’s many characters: falcons and hunting dogs at bay, kings and courtesans, and other animals dressed in human garb. Created over a period of decades by previously unrecognized scribes and artists, the Ormesby Psalter is an exceptional amalgam of medieval art and history. For scholars of medieval life, as well as art historians, this new study will be an invaluable resource.

224 pages | 71 color plates | 7 1/2 x 10 3/4 | © 2005

Treasures from the Bodleian Library

Art: Art--General Studies

Medieval Studies

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"The majestic Ormesby Psalter is a triumph of medieval English manuscript illumination. Frederica Law-Turner clearly and elegantly explains the book’s often enigmatic imagery. The fascinating history of  the tome, which took some three quarters of a century to make, reads like one of Ellis Peters’ Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. The saga involves an engagement, a stolen wardship, an ambitious ecclesiastic, and a falling steeple—a story well told."


Roger S. Wieck, The Morgan Library & Museum

“This is a fascinating study of the puzzling luxury psalter made for notable East Anglian families in the early years of the 14th century. Law-Turner's meticulous analysis of the heraldry reveals how the complex relationships of the Foliots and the Bardolfs, families in the circle of John de Warenne, and their continental links to the Dukes of Bar, impacted upon the various phases in the production of this remarkable book. She isolates four distinct campaigns of execution and convincingly attributes one of them to a painter from the distinguished entourage of Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz and uncle of Jeanne de Bar, wife of John VII de Warenne. She further sheds important light on the life of Robert of Ormesby and his revisions to the book made before he donated it to Norwich Cathedral Priory, where it underwent still more changes of rebinding and repair by an artist dubbed by Sydney Cockerell as ‘the Cheap Finisher.’”


Alison Stones, University of Pittsburgh

Table of Contents

Family Trees
Modern history
Medieval owners
The book as a book
The puzzle
Making the Ormesby Psalter
The late-thirteenth-century campaign
The 1310s campaign
The Jesse Master
The Ormesby Master
The 1330s campaign
The Earl of Ufford and the final campaign
Descriptive Commentary
Psalm I, Beatus vir
Psalm I, Beatus vir
Psalm 26, Dominus illuminatio mea
Psalm 38, Dixi custodiam vias meas
Psalm 51, Quid gloriaris in militia
Psalm 52, Dixit insipiens
Psalm 68, Salvum me fac deus
Psalm 80, Exultate deo
Psalm 97, Cantante domino
Psalm 101, Domine exaudi orationem meam
Psalm 109, Dixit dominus domino meo

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