Discoveries of real artistic treasures are exceptionally rare. The Macclesfield Psalter (c. 1335), a jewel of manuscript painting, was virtually unknown before its sale by Sotheby’s in 2004.
The manuscript offers a window into the medieval world, an intimate view of the faith, sentiments, prejudices, follies, and aspirations of medieval people. Doctors, minstrels, mummers, farmers, dancers, jesters, and beggars mingle on the pages as they would have done on the streets of a busy town. And the marginal imagery tempts the viewer to leave the confines of the prayer book and enter a wonderland of literary conceits, visions, and fables, with naked wild men, a dog dressed as a bishop, or a giant fish swimming across a page.
The Macclesfield Psalter is a revealing product of artistic and patronage exchange in the Middle Ages. A complete reproduction of the manuscript at its original size is accompanied by an authoritative text that not only interprets the textual and artistic content but also beguiles the reader through its vivid descriptions and rich insights.
Stella Panayotova is Keeper of Manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. She is the editor, with Paul Binski, of The Cambridge Illuminations: Ten Centuries of Book Production in the Medieval West.