Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

Oxford (United Kingdom) — ca. 1240

Created by one of the greatest masters of English illumination: seven parchment fragments of a lost masterpiece by William de Brailes

  1. William de Brailes (active 1230–1260) is considered to be the unsurpassed master of 13th century English illumination

  2. Unfortunately, one of his most outstanding works only survives in a few fragments: a psalter from Oxford

  3. The miniature of the Last Judgement contains an extremely rare self-portrait of de Brailes holding a scroll

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

William de Brailes is considered to be the unsurpassed master of 13th century English illumination. In his works, unbelievable inventive power and masterful artistry meet deep faith and precious materials. Unfortunately, one of his most outstanding works only exists today in a few fragments: a psalter from Oxford, originating ca. 1240. Only seven pages, stored today in Cambridge and New York, offer a glimpse into the glory of William de Brailes’ art. As an additional exceptional feature, the master immortalized himself in a minute portrait in one of the illustrations!

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

William de Brailes is considered to be the unsurpassed master of 13th century English illumination. In his works, unbelievable inventive power and masterful artistry meet deep faith and precious materials. Unfortunately, one of his most outstanding works only exists today in a few fragments: a psalter from Oxford, originating ca. 1240. Only seven pages, stored today in Cambridge and New York, offer a glimpse into the glory of William de Brailes’ art. As an additional exceptional feature, the master immortalized himself in a minute portrait in one of the illustrations!

The Work of a Master

Manuscript 330 of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, along with a leaf in the Morgan Library in New York represent an inestimable treasure in the history of illumination: seven pages from a long-lost psalter by the English miniaturist William de Brailes in the 13th century. This psalter probably originated ca. 1240 in Oxford, where the artistic genius was active. William de Brailes (active 1230–1260) is considered to be an exceptionally-talented painter and miniaturist. The seven pages of this compendium belong among the best of the surviving works of this grandiose artist!

A Stunning Visual Experience

The seven surviving pages of the psalter present the following depictions: the Last Judgement, the Fall of the Angels, a page with scenes from Christ’s childhood, scenes from the history of Cain and Abel, the Tree of Jesse, the enthroned Christ and King David, and finally the Wheel of Destiny. Luminous colors and glimmering gold characterize the first impression that the pages leave with the beholder. Extraordinarily creative, unusual and gorgeous compositions form the base of the exceptional visual experience: golden and colorful frames with round, half-circle, or mandorla-shaped picture fields, or one or two great primary miniatures with medallions in the corners of the frame give an inside view of the art of this exceptional painter. Pages full of rich imagery and exuberant luster!

William de Braile Immortalizes Himself

One detail makes these pages something very special: on one of the pages, the depiction of the Last Judgement, a signature of William de Brailes can be found! This is not merely a simple signature, but is actually a portrait: amidst the group of lost souls, a figure with a tonsure can be recognized, who is saved by the archangel Michael. In his hands he holds a scroll with the name William de Brailes. Such “self-portraits” were most unusual at this time, nonetheless, de Brailes is one of the first artists to have signed his work!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Blätter aus einem Psalter von William de Brailes
Size / Format
7 leaves / 22.1 × 14.4 cm
Date
ca. 1240
Style
Language
Illustrations
7 leaves with full-page illuminations on golden background
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes – MS 330 – Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
The Folio Society – London, 2012
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Detail Picture

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

King David the Musician

Appearing in the lower register of a full-page miniature beneath an image of Christ surrounded by the Four Evangelist Symbols, King David is depicted playing three different instruments. He strums a harp in the primary medallion while plucking a dulcimer in the lower right corner and plays a stringed instrument with a bow in the lower left corner, possibly a vielle. Medieval music was undergoing a revolution in the 13th century that included a proliferation of instruments and styles.

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes
Single Page

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

Wheel of Fortune

With her hands turning the golden spokes of the wheel, Fortuna is enthroned in the center of the miniature without a blindfold, as is common. On the left, a young man in the ascent says, “I am borne again to the stars” while an enthroned king at the top says, “I exalt on high”. A falling figure on the right laments, “Reduced, I descend” and the dying figure at the bottom says, “Lowest, I am ground by the wheel”.

The rest of the outer ring consists of twelve roundels showing the ages of man from infancy to death beginning at the bottom-left. Eight more half-roundels with scenes from the life of Saint Theophilus the Penitent fill the inner ring. The three cycles illustrate the life of man as shaped by fortune, by time, and by choice.

Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes
Facsimile Editions

#1 Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes

The Folio Society – London, 2012
Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes – MS 330 – Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
Leaves from a Psalter by William de Brailes – MS 330 – Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, United Kingdom) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: The Folio Society – London, 2012
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Binding: The 7 leaves of the psalter under passe-partout are printed on real parchment and are in a decorative case
Commentary: 1 volume by Nigel J. Morgan
Language: English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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