Making and Unmaking Love in the Macclesfield Psalter

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The fourteenth-century English Psalter known as the Mac-clesfield Psalter (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 1–2005) features numerous love scenes in the bas-de-page. Most appear at standard psalm openings below elaborate historiated initials, which usually frame scenes from the life of King David. This essay argues that these amatory motifs work in tandem with the adja-cent biblical iconography to make pointed statements about the dangers of unsanctioned sex and lustful behavior. They achieve this through the choice of biblical event, new iconographic inter-pretations—of both the biblical and secular material—and vari-ous pictorial strategies. A comparison between the manuscript’s innovative love designs and stock motifs, such as on Gothic ivories and in manuscript illumination, reveals not only the inventive-ness of the book’s designer but also an intention to manipulate this visual tradition for a specific purpose. Neither the book’s com-missioner nor intended audience is known. This essay argues that an as-yet-unidentified woman in the orbit of the earls of Arundel and Surrey might have requested the book for a young man and that she worked with a Dominican advisor to create the book’s lavish visual cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalGESTA-International Center of Medieval Art
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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