The Penitent King David from a Book of Hours

November 27, 2019 in Manuscript Studies

Detached Manuscript Leaf with Framed Illustration and Text
King David with Crown and Lyre
at the Opening of Psalm 6 or 37 (38) in Latin from a Book of Hours

At least circa 125 × 160 mm (as framed and matted)

Rouen, circa 1480–90

J. S. Wagner Collection

Continuing our exploration of manuscript fragments, we welcome a new addition to the quest. See the Contents List for this blog for the series of revelations.

From the collection of J. S. Wagner, we offer images from a detached leaf on Vellum in Latin apparently from a Book of Hours.  At present, the leaf is contained within a frame, so only one side is visible.  It might be the recto or verso of the leaf.

It presents the illustrated opening of one of the Penitential Psalms in Latin in the Vulgate Version from a luxurious Book of Hours.  The ambition of its production is manifested by the script, illustration, and decoration, as well as the use of gold and other pigments.  The opening of text upon the page corresponds to Verse 1 of both Psalm 6 and Psalm 37 (38).  At present, given the state of the leaf, we don’t know which.  See below for those options.

Now contained within a frame behind glass, this page might represent the recto or the verso of the leaf.  For example, if the other side (verso) continues the text, it would establish which Psalm is represented.  If the other side(recto) is the formerly previous text, then it might designate some Psalm or otherwise in the liturgical sequence.  Needless to say, problems aplenty can arise when a leaf is excised and dispersed without accompanying information.

Call it detective work, and you would be right on track.  The good thing is that sharing of images and information might yield increased knowledge.

Herewith some clues.

The Page

J. S. Wagner Collection. Detached Manuscript Detached Leaf with the Opening in Latin of the Penitent Psalm 37 (38) and its Illustration of King David.

On the back of the frame, an inscription written in ballpoint pen identifies the leaf as “1490 Netherland, King David and Lyre”.  So far I haven’t seen an imae of that inscription.  Perhaps its script might identify a vendor.

The Illustration

J. S. Wagner Collection. Detached Manuscript Leaf with the Opening in Latin of the Penitent Psalm 37 (38) and its Illustration of King David. The King kneels facing left, with raised clasped hands. His crown and lyre lie on the floor at his left.

J. S. Wagner Collection. Manuscript Leaf with Illustration of King David.

The illustration, contained within an arcade, depicts the white-haired, bearded king kneeling, facing left, and raising his hands clasped in prayer.  At the left on the tiled floor beside him lie his crown (apparently posed upon a helmet) and lyre, while his elaborate throne stands empty at the right.  A flying angel with raised sword and ready shield hovers at the upper left with menacing pose.   At the center top appears a round mandorla with the half-length frontal and haloed figure of the Deity holding a round orb, equalling the cosmos.  Below the mandorla stream golden rays of light over the distant landscape populated with cloud-like rounded hills.

J. S. Wagner Collection. Detached Manuscript Leaf with the Opening in Latin of the Penitent Psalm 4 or Psalm 37 (38) and its Illustration of King David.

J. S. Wagner Collection. King David as Penitent.

The Penitent Subject

Such scenes, with the penitent King David, laying down his crown and lyre, can be found in various Books of Hours, Flemish and French included. A few:

The Text and Decoration

The scene stands within a full-page foliate border which also embraces the short text-block below.  The foliage comprises 7 segments of undulating, scrolling, and branching stems placed variously within the full-page rectangular frame.  Strewn petals and flowers appear between those segments.

The text presents the opening of Verse 1 of either Psalm 6 or Psalm 37 (38) among the Penitential Psalms.  This sharedopening states:  Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me (“O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath”).

On “our” page, the text presents a 4-line inset initial, enclosed within a sub-rectangular gold frame, alongside 4 lines of text in angular Gothic script, concluding with a sub-rectangular line-filler with schematic geometric-and-foliate ornament.  The decorated initial includes graceful foliate and geometric ornament.  Its branching, scrolling stems end in trefoil terminals.

J. S. Wagner Collection. Detached Manuscript Detached Leaf with the Opening in Latin of the Penitent Psalm 37 (38).

J. S. Wagner Collection. Detached Manuscript Detached Leaf with the Opening in Latin of the Penitent Psalm 6 or 37 (38).

The following text should decide which Psalm.  That text would stand on the other side of the leaf, if it is a recto, or on the formerly facing page of the next leaf, if it is a verso.  In both Psalms 6 and 37 (38), it should continue with the words neque in ira tua corripias me (“neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure”), completing Verse 1.  Thereafter they diverge in their readings.  Their Verse 2 open thus differently:

  • Psalm 6:  miserere mei Domine quoniam infirmus sum (“Have mercy upon me O Lord; for I am weak”)
  • Psalm 37 (38):  quoniam sagittae tuae infixae sunt mihi (“For thine arrows stick fast in me”)

The Original Manuscript and Its Place of Origin

On the page, such signs as the roughly-drawn rippled line at the top of the arcade and the partly askew boundary lines of various elements betray an unsteady, unprofessional, or hasty hand.  They mix, perhaps disconcertingly, with the skilled elements — image, decoration, and text included — that combine with them upon the page.  The origin of some or all elements of this illustrated leaf might be identifiable, now that it is brought to wider attention.

We thank the owner for bringing this leaf to our attention and permitting us to publish it here.  We thank our colleagues for their expert comments.  So far:  James Marrow, Barbara Shailor, and Consulo Deutschke.  We are grateful for your help.

Help Wanted

Do you know of other representatives from this dispersed manuscript or other products by this scribe, artist, or artistic center?  Please let us know. Contact Us.