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Reviewed by:
  • The World of the Luttrell Psalter
  • Lucy Freeman Sandler
The World of the Luttrell Psalter. By Michelle P. Brown. (London: British Library, distributed by the University of Chicago Press. 2006. Pp. 96. $19.95 paperback.)

In 2006 the British Library published a complete facsimile of the Luttrell Psalter, arguably the most famous fourteenth-century English illuminated manuscript, with an extensive commentary by Michelle P. Brown. In The World of the Luttrell Psalter, published at the same time as the facsimile (and distributed in the United States by the University of Chicago Press in 2007), the digital photos and Brown's introductory text have been redeployed, but her page-by-page descriptive commentary has been omitted. The result is a low-cost introduction to the manuscript, intended to be readily available to a wide public.

The focus of Brown's text is on the Luttrell Psalter as a speculum, a mirror of "real life" in fourteenth-century England, as it was experienced by the Luttrells, a wealthy land-owning knightly family. "Real life" encompasses not only the marginal genre scenes of peasants and their Luttrell lords that are the most well-known illustrations in the psalter, but other marginal images rich in contemporary political,moral, and religious meanings, some with recognizable human protagonists and some whose actors are "disguised" in the form of fantastic grotesque creatures threatening the stability of the Luttrell world.

The text of The World of the Luttrell Psalter follows the organization of the facsimile commentary, with sections on "The Luttrell Family and Their Folk," "When, Where and Why was the Luttrell Psalter Made?" "Depictions of the Luttrells and Their World," "Planners, Artists, Scribes," "People in the Landscape," and "Wild Things: the Grotesques."At the end is a description of the textual contents of the manuscript, its physical characteristics, and an identification of the various artists who executed the illustrations, followed by suggestions for further reading.

Small in dimensions, The World of the Luttrell Psalter is loaded with color reproductions. Some show entire, or nearly entire pages of the book (in a variety of scales),many are details of individual historiated initials or marginal subjects, and some are striking blowups of single motifs. The typography too is bewilderingly varied in size and font. Such jazzed-up book design does not make it easy to recapitulate the experience of paging through an actual manuscript, making it all too possible to forget that The World of the Luttrell Psalter is, after all, a book about a book. [End Page 354]

Lucy Freeman Sandler
New York University


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