Queen Mary Psalter

Queen Mary Psalter – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Royal MS 2 B. VII – British Library (London, United Kingdom)

London (United Kindgom) — Ca. 1310–1320

One of the most beautiful works of the Middle Ages and an English national treasure: 374 miniatures of the English Gothic style, often adorned with gold, and 464 bas-de-page scenes of mythical creatures and everyday life of the nobility

  1. "One of the most extensively illustrated psalters", created in 1310-1320 by a single unknown artist known only as the "Queen Mary Master"

  2. Owned by numerous English monarchs over the centuries, today named after Queen Mary I Tudor (1516-58)

  3. Hundreds of miniatures and pen and ink drawings depict knights, hunters, courtiers, musicians, jugglers, and mythical creatures alongside images of the Old and New Testaments

Queen Mary Psalter

  1. Description
  2. Single Page
  3. Facsimile Editions (1)
Queen Mary Psalter

With more than 800 miniatures, historiated initials, and bas-de-page scenes, the Queen Mary Psalter is one of the finest masterpieces of illumination created in all the Middle Ages. What makes this overwhelming wealth of imagery even more impressive is that it was produced by a single hand, the mysterious Queen Mary Master. Created in the early 14th century during the reign of King Edward II, it was the coveted possession of English monarchs for centuries, including Queen Mary I, after whom it is named. The grandiose work has been called "one of the most extensively illustrated psalters ever produced in Western Europe" and "one of the choicest treasures of the magnificent collection of illuminated MSS. in the British Museum".

Queen Mary Psalter

Probably created in London, the Queen Mary Psalter is one of the most valuable manuscripts in the possession of the British Library. Its size, richness of decoration, and consistently high artistic quality leave no doubt that the person who commissioned it came from the closest circle of the English royal family. The production is dated to the period 1310-1320, the reign of King Edward II (1284– 1327) and his wife Isabella of France (ca. 1295–1358), possibly as a gift for Isabella or intended for a royal child. The manuscript contains more than just the Book of Psalms – it has extensive excerpts from both the Old and New Testaments, saints’ lives, and presents a vivid picture of life in Europe at the turn of the 14th century. It is truly one of the brightest highlights of medieval European illumination.

The Mysterious Queen Mary Master

Incredibly, the Queen Mary Psalter is the work of a single illuminator. Miniatures, drawings, initials - everything is of a quality that outshines all English and French Gothic book illumination. The illuminator is known only by his pen name: "Queen Mary Master". His technical skill and imagination enabled him to create a very personal style from a variety of sources and the style of his figures is an exquisite reinterpretation and refinement of established book illumination in England. The anonymous artist’s position in the history of English art can be compared to that of Giotto (ca. 1267–1337) in Italy and to that of Jean Pucelle (ca. 1300 – 1355) in France.

The Queen Mary Psalter: An Encyclopedic Masterpiece

With its wealth of imagery, the Queen Mary Psalter is a true picture Bible. It opens with a cycle of 223 miniatures of the Old Testament, followed by the festive calendar with 24 page-wide framed miniatures. More than 100 miniatures reveal the life, miracles, and Passion of Jesus in somewhat unusual iconographies. The blank space at the bottom of the page, known as the bas-de-page, presents the Middle Ages in all its diversity: the animal world of the bestiary, knights in tournaments and in battle, scenes of hunting, courtly life with table delights, musicians, jugglers, drolleries, and mythological creatures – there are no limits to the imagination of the Queen Mary Master.

Made for a Queen?

The possibility that this manuscript was intended for Queen Isabelle is indicated by the primacy of female figures in the Psalter: Old Testament characters like Eve, Sarah, and Bathsheba; women in the New Testament like the Virgin Mary and Saint Anne; female saints like Catherine of Alexandria, Mary Magdalene, and Margaret of Antioch; special attention is even paid to the mothers of Thomas Beckett and St. Nicholas. Focus is placed on the importance of women’s’ actions, especially mothers protecting their children. However, this connection is only the supposition of academics and researchers. The first confirmed owner of the Psalter is Queen Mary I of England (1516–58), whose name the Psalter bears today.

A Journey through History

As hard as it may be to believe, it is not known what happened to this jewel of illumination for the first two centuries of its existence. A note in the manuscript states that the Psalter was impounded by Baldwin Smith, an English customs officer, and that it had previously belonged to an Earl of Rutland, likely Henry Manner (1526–63), a Protestant who was imprisoned in May of 1533. It thus came into the hands of the second Tudor monarch, who was in the process of expanding the liturgical manuscript collection of the English royal library. It remained in the possession of the monarchy until 1757, when it was donated along with the rest of the so-called Old Royal Library to the British Museum by King George II (1683–1760).


Alternative Titles
Size / Format
638 pages / 27.5 × 17.5 cm
Ca. 1310–1320
Textura Prescissa Textura Rotunda
374 miniatures including 151 miniatures in radiant gold and 233 pen drawings, 464 bas-de-page scenes in delicately colored grisaille, 23 historiated initials, numerous multi-line colored initials with gold, punched gold backgrounds, extensively applied gold leaf and finely shimmering brush gold, intensely luminous colors
Old Testament cycle, calendar, Psalms, Canticles, Litanies, and prayers
Perhaps made for King Edward II (1284– 1327) or his wife Isabella of France (ca. 1295–1358)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Isabella of France (ca. 1295–1358)
Henry Manner, Earl of Rutland (1526–63)
Queen Mary I of England (1516–58)
Old Royal Library

Available facsimile editions:
Queen Mary Psalter – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Royal MS 2 B. VII – British Library (London, United Kingdom)
Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2022
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Single Page

Queen Mary Psalter

Entry into Jerusalem

A typical page in this manuscript usually consists of a miniature, historiated initial, and bas-de-page scene. Here for example, Christ rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday against a beautifully framed, radiant gold background and his donkey appears weary from a long ride. It looks down at the blue robe placed before its hooves by the crowd waiting at the city gates, one of whom climbs a tree to cut palm branches.

The “D” initial contains the Holy Trinity: God the Father and God the Son are seated, giving the sign of benediction, and holding a globe while the Holy Spirit takes the form of a dove. St. Stephen preaches to three men at the bottom of the page and all four figures are excellently proportioned with a natural, subtly colored fall of folds giving them a three-dimensional appearance.

Der Queen-Mary-Psalter
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Queen-Mary-Psalter

Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2022

Publisher: Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2022
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Binding: Dark red leather binding with rich gold embossing on the spine and gilded punched decorative corners and engraved closing fittings
Commentary: 1 volume by Nigel Morgan, Lynda Dennison, and Delbert Russell
Language: German
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: €€€€€ (over 10,000€)
Edition available
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