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Book reviews >

The Lichtenthal Psalter and the Manuscript Patronage of the Bohun Family

&nbsPamela Tudor-Craig rejoices in the rediscovery of a delectable Psalter Lucy Freeman Sandl
Harvey Miller Publishers 60.50 (1-872501-13-3)MEDIEVAL genealogical tables make melancholy reading for feminists. TakEleanor of Castille, the chre Reine of Charing Cross. Married animmediately pregnant at the age of 12, she lost that child, and the next twoShe lost, in all, 11 daughters and three sons. Four daughters lived tadulthood; her last son inherited as Edward II. Eleanor herself survived unti48.Among those dead children was Alphonso, for whom one of the most beautifubooks of the Middle Ages was begun. The unfinished book passed to his sisteElizabeth, who married, in 1302, Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, and gavhim ten children. With the wonderful Alphonso Psalter and the famous LuttrelPsalter, which they acquired early, the de Bohuns founded one of the mosremarkable libraries of the Middle Ages. Not only were the de Bohuns collectors during the 14th century, their hignoon of prosperity, but they employed their own scribes and two nameilluminators, the Augustinian friars John de la Teye and Henry Hood, whproduced the wondrous group of illuminated Psalters and Books of Hours whosstudy is indissolubly linked with the name of Lucy Freeman Sandler. No one could have expected that another manuscript would join the group oeight illuminated by de la Teye and Hood. Four of these are, predictably, ithe British Library, the Bodleian, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and at ExeteCollege, Oxford. The others now five are abroad, not because of thReformations diaspora of English treasures, but because of the Continentamarriages arranged for de Bohun daughters. Most of the activity that kept de la Teye and Hood so busy was concentratein the years 1380-94, which saw the arrival of the children of Mary de BohunHer father, Humphrey, Earl of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton, had diewithout sons in 1373. His elder daughter Eleanor was married to Thomas, Duke oGloucester, a son of Edward III, who acquired Essex in the process, and woullater come to grief with Richard II. Mary stayed at home till she was ten, anwas then married to Henry Bolingbroke, who usurped the throne from Richard IIMary, like Eleanor of Castille, had, when she was 12, a child whimmediately died. Of her four sons, the eldest would be Henry V, and two of thothers (Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, founder of the Bodleian, and John, Dukof Bedford) would be the mighty uncles of the infant Henry VI, and amonEnglands finest bibliophiles. Blanche, her elder daughter, married LudwigCount Palatine of the Rhine, and carried the Lichtenthal Psalter, which habelonged to her mother, to Germany. Lucy Sandler, with her usual immaculate scholarship, has traced the stepwhereby this precious book then reached (probably in 1503) Maria, Abbess oLichtenthal.We can capture the flavour of the illuminations of John de la Teye from thhighly original initials and bas de page with which he embellishes thPsalms. His overall plan was to work his way through the Pentateuch, whilmaking a running commentary on the psalms chosen for special illumination. TPsalm 26 (our 27) is allotted Noah (see picture). We have the initiaD, with God instructing Noah as he builds the ark, and closes the door when alare aboard. At the bottom of the page are a delightful disembarkation, Noaplanting a vine, and a very discreet version of his drunkenness. The Psalmist says: "In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilionin the secret of his tabernacle he shall hide me." Along the bar of the letteD, de la Teye has secreted an almost private gloss on these words. Below a heaof God in clouds there is a rendering of rain, and below that a little figuresurely the friar himself, up to his middle in the flood, beseeching God fomercy. Throughout this delectable Psalter, little figurines busily perform theibiblical functions, enclosed in elaborate gilt tabernacles, much pinnacledfrom which hang heraldic references to the dignity of their late-14th-centurclients. The Bohun manuscripts appear to have been created in a closeenvironment, outside the sophistication of Richard IIs court. This littlgroup of Augustinian friars, led by the Dukes confessor, manned the chapel anguided the souls of a family who looked to the outside world chiefly for evegrander marriages. That enclave of artistry and learning was in the castle of Pleshey, of whicthe outer bailey encloses the village. Hardly anything now remains but crossing arch in the church. How many of those who have come to Pleshey retreahouse knew the history of the place?There can be no greater excitement for a scholar than the discovery of yeanother treasure within her field, a treasure that extends and affirms all LucSandler has shown us about this remarkable group of manuscripts, and the liveof the family for which they were so exquisitely made. She shares thaexcitement with us here.

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