Luttrell Psalter

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Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, mounted, being assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law. Folio 202v.

The Luttrell Psalter (British Library, Add. MS 42130) is an English illuminated psalter written and illustrated c. 1320–1340 by anonymous scribes and artists.

Along with the psalms (beginning on folio 13 recto), the Luttrell Psalter contains a calendar (1 r), canticles (259 verso), the Mass (283 v) and an antiphon for the dead (295 r). The pages vary in their degree of illumination, but many are richly covered with both decorated text and marginal pictures of saints and Bible stories, and scenes of rural life. It is considered one of the richest sources for visual depictions of everyday rural life in medieval England.

The Psalter was acquired by the British Museum in 1929 for £31,500 from Mary Angela Noyes, wife of the poet Alfred Noyes.[1] It has been displayed at the British Library since the separation of the Library from the British Museum.

History and authorship[edit]

The Luttrell Psalter was created in England sometime between 1320 and 1345 at the request of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Lord of the Manor of Irnham in Lincolnshire.[2] The date of its completion has not been established with certainty; different scholars have dated the manuscript to several different time periods. Eric Millar writes that the manuscript was made around 1335–40, before the death of Luttrell's wife, Agnes Sutton, because the illustrations show characteristics of the "late 'decadence' of the Late East Anglian style". Lucy Sandler prefers to date the creation around 1325–30 because the styles are similar to the other manuscripts of that time. Michelle Brown believes it was made and planned much later, around 1330–45.[3]

Luttrell, a rich land owner, felt his death was coming and wanted to account for all his actions, as it is stated in the colophon of the psalter.[2] The purpose of the manuscript was to help with his provisions for his will, in which Luttrell established that he wanted twenty chaplains to recite masses after his death over a five-year period, clerks to recite the Psalms, and other activities for a certain amount of money each.[4]

The creation of the Luttrell Psalter could be connected to either the papal dispensation of 1331 with the Luttrell-Sutton union or the coming of age of Andrew Luttrell, Sir Geoffrey's son, in 1334.[3] These indications are present in the illustrations in the manuscript; there is a portrait of Luttrell mounted on a horse and dressed to confirm his status during the marriage union of his family.[3] To reinforce his role as patron, he ordered the line Dominus Galfridus Louterell me fieri fecit (Lord Geoffrey Luttrell caused me to be made) be written above this miniature.[5] The manuscript has images of beggars and street performers and grotesques, all symbolizing the chaos and anarchy that was present and feared by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell.

The Luttrell Psalter was composed by many artists, all of them with slightly different styles. The First Luttrell Artist is referred to as "the decorator". He used a linear style of drawing instead of a two-dimensional approach. The Second Luttrell Artist, "the Colourist" often drew images that were more round and modelled in the fashion of the previously drawn figures, such as Christ. He took more notice of human form and posture in his drawings. The Third Luttrell Artist, "the Illustrator", favoured a two-dimensional style. The Fourth Luttrell Artist. "the Luttrell Master", was skilled in rural themes and outlandish grotesques. He also drew the depictions of the Luttrell family. He shows great skill at producing effects of shadow and texture. His technique is very similar to the style use in most of the East Anglian manuscripts of the period.[6]

The manuscript, initially a private creation, came into public notice in 1794, when miniatures of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, his wife and their daughter-in-law were produced along with a summary of the book.[7]


Sir Geoffrey at table surrounded by his family and two Dominican friars. Two servants wait on them, f 208

The Luttrell Psalter measures 370 x 270 mm. It is written in Latin and comprises 309 high-quality vellum leaves and flyleaves of paper.[8] Most of the pages are decorated in red paint with details in gold, silver and blind.[9] The illustrations are stamped and tooled into the paper. The preserved manuscript has eight cords that help to securely attach the pages together. It is sewn together and bound with dark brown Morocco.[8] The scribes used ruling as a method of scribing.[10] This was an expensive method. The scripts are fairly large. Each frame of the manuscript has about fourteen full lines of text.[10] The strokes of the letters are flat and parallel to the writing line. This technique required a pen where the nib is especially cut at an oblique angle, a "strange pen".[10] Unlike earlier illuminated manuscripts, the first letter of the first word on the line, for every two lines then other lines, are capitalized. Its style has many highlights and shadowing on the human figures, and its modelling of the human figure was more pronounced, muscular, and full of flesh.


Grotesque creature in the margins, f 27 r

The illustrations within the manuscript display several scenes from Geoffrey Luttrell's life, regular daily activities around the town and many different curious figures combining animal and human parts. The Luttrell Psalter was a good illustration of the everyday life in the Middle Ages.[7] Aside from the common images of citizens and the Luttrell family, some images remained obscure but some can be related to the text beside which they are painted. It requires, however, the reader to have some insight of the Latin sacred words.[11] Most of the decorations around the margins are images of pure fantasy, figures of saints, and naturalistic motifs.[12]

Luttrell wanted the drawings to reflect the current devotional, cultural, political, economic and dynastic aspirations that he and his family had.[13] One, for example, shows the remodelling of the Irnham parish church, emphasizing how he was preoccupied with his activities in preparation for his death.[13]

The miniature of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell mounted on the horse wearing full armour beside his wife and daughter-in-law is a very powerful image in the Luttrell Psalter. It suggests that he wanted to be remembered for his youth and for his time spent in the military. The image also shows the Luttrell's family heraldry.[5]

Servants preparing food and running errands were depicted along the margins of the manuscript to emphasize that they played a major role both socially and economically.[14] Images of farming included both men and women to show that during harvest time all available labour was required.


  1. ^ Foreign News: Luttrell Psalter, Time, 12 August 1929. For a more detailed account, see Alfred Noyes. Two Worlds for Memory. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1953, pp. 235-240.
  2. ^ a b Brown (2006), 86
  3. ^ a b c Brown (2006), 22
  4. ^ Brown (2006), 24
  5. ^ a b Backhouse (2000), 9
  6. ^ Brown (2006) 92–3
  7. ^ a b Backhouse (2000), 5
  8. ^ a b Backhouse (2000), 8
  9. ^ Brown (2006), 88–9
  10. ^ a b c Brown (2006), 89
  11. ^ Camille (1998), 172
  12. ^ Backhouse (2000), 8-9
  13. ^ a b Brown (2006), 36
  14. ^ Backhouse (2000), 11


  • Camille, Michael. Mirror in Parchment. London: Reaktion Books, 1998.
  • Backhouse, Janet. Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter. North America: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
  • Brown, Michelle P. The World of the Luttrell Psalter. London: The British Library, 2006.

External links[edit]