A Note on the Albani-Psalter Litany Miniature

Most writers now reject Dodwell's dating of pre-1123 for the so-called Albani-Psalter in Hildesheim, and follow Thomson's more cautious c. 1120-30 date bracket. It has also been suggested that the initial/miniature which heads the Litany of saints on page 403 of the Psalter, with its groups of kneeling nuns, and its overt emphasis on the Trinity, must refer to the dedication of Holy Trinity Priory, Markyate, a community of nuns consecrated in 1145, which implies a yet later date for the manuscript.

However, special veneration of the Trinity at Markyate probably dates back to the time when Roger the Hermit settled there, thanks to a vision he had previously had, of three angels. Through Roger's influence, Christina's own devotion to the Trinity probably dates from her earliest companionship with him at Markyate (we are told that they prayed together every day; Talbot, pp.104-107). Thus the emphasis on the Trinity in the image does not allow us to date the Psalter image any earlier than Christina's arrival at Markyate (c.1118?), or at least within the lifetime of Roger (i.e. pre-1123)

Detail of Litany initial An unnoticed detail of the Litany miniature may provide evidence for a relatively late dating of the manuscript. Visible in the original, and in some reproductions (e.g. Nilgen, p. 163), is the fact that the wings of the dove which comprises the third person of the Trinity, were originally drawn outspread, but have been erased, and painted close to the bird's body. Such changes of the Alexis Master's underdrawing by the artist responsible for the overpainting are not uncommon in themselves, but we must assume that the painter had, in each case, some reason for preferring the alternative design. It may thus be significant that in the description of Christina's vision of the Trinity in the Vita the first two persons are described as "two venerable and very pleasing personages clothed in white garments. Standing side by side, they differed neither in stature nor beauty" (Talbot, p.157). In the manuscript, Father and Son's clothing are admittedly not painted in plain white, but they are painted like mirror images of one another: standing side by side, looks, stature, and posture are the same. The description goes on, "On their shoulders a dove far more beautiful than other doves seemed to rest" (Talbot, pp.156-7). It is possible that the alteration of the image was due to the fact that the artist knew that the Dove should 'seem to rest' ("quiescere videbatur"), and should therefore not be depicted with outspread wings, as if in flight.

As for the groups of nuns in the Psalter miniature, we know that Christina had other women with her from a relatively early date: even before her monastic profession, c.l131, we read in the Vita that, "On the morrow of Whitsunday, having called together three of her maidens who were living with her (for with her growing reputation the number of maidens grew)..." (Talbot, p. 145).

We cannot put an exact date on the vision of the Trinity, but in the narrative of the Vita it occurs between Christina's monastic profession, c.l131, and the accession of King Stephen in 1135, so it seems that the Psalter's Litany miniature, reflecting the details of the vision, also post-dates c.l131.

PJK 30/8/94

[Hyperlinks added 2007]

Postscript: The 'miniature' is in fact an historiated initial 'K'

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