Psalm 68; A bearded, crowned king, standing naked in water up to his chest in a shaft sunk into the earth, from The Luttrell Psalter by Psalm 68; A bearded, crowned king, standing naked in water up to his chest in a shaft sunk into the earth, from The Luttrell Psalter by Unknown English artist

Unknown English artist

Psalm 68; A bearded, crowned king, standing naked in water up to his chest in a shaft sunk into the earth, from The Luttrell Psalter, c.1320–40, Illumination on parchment, 355 x 245 mm, The British Library, London, Add MS 42130, fol. 121v, © The British Library Board Add MS 42130

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A Consuming Zeal

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The Luttrell Psalter takes its name from a highly prominent inscription, inserted into the biblical text right before the last of the important Psalter divisions of Psalm 109 (in Vulgate numbering). The additional language reads: Gloria patri. D[omi]n[u]s Galfridus louterell me fieri fecit (‘Glory to the Father. Lord Geoffrey Luttrell caused me to be made’). Directly beneath is an image of a man on horseback, whom most scholars identify as Sir Geoffrey himself.

In size, the Psalter is a very large format (355 x 245 mm). It is heavy, too, so it is clear that it was not designed as a hand-held devotional book. Indeed, the Luttrell Psalter would have been much easier to handle (and still is) when placed on a lectern or desk of some sort. The text is large (the smaller letters are about 10 mm high) and is extremely legible, with very few abbreviations. These factors, together with the size of some of the decoration, suggests that the Luttrell Psalter may have been intended for communal reading or use by Sir Geoffrey and his immediate family.

Sir Geoffrey’s book is extensively illustrated, and is particularly known for the rather bizarre hybrid creatures that populate the margins of some of its pages. The full border around the beginning verses of Psalm 69 (Psalm 68 in the Vulgate) includes several such constructs, three with human heads atop sinuous bodies that form part of the decoration. Yet the ornamentation also includes much more straightforward and standardized biblical imagery. In the initial itself, a king, identified by a crown (perhaps king David) stands in deep water, illustrating the first verse: ‘Save me, O God: for the waters are come in even unto my soul’ (v.1 Douay–Rheims).

For another descendant in David’s royal line, the words of this Psalm would seem equally appropriate: the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, given vinegar to drink (v.21); a ‘stranger to his brethren’ (v.8); and altogether ‘consumed’ by his zeal for his Father’s house (v.9).