Wednesday 19 February 2014

Falling into the Psalter

The February page of the Cuerden Psalter shows a rather leisured 'labour of the month'; a man warming himself inside by a fire, one boot off and in his hand.  Near the bottom of the page where the Pisces roundel should be there is a circular hole instead.  

This space is the place I feel I have been inhabiting recently.  I was admitted to hospital with a raging fever and infection invading my face and I stayed there for the next twelve days.  Prior to my sojourn I was immersed in medieval images, particularly of death, as I had been reading Michael Camille's 'Master of Death: the Lifeless Art of Pierre Remiet Illuminator'.  

In November I wrote 'The first full illuminated page of the Cuerden Psalter, following the twelve calendar pages, shows the couple (for whom the Psalter was made) at the feet of the Madonna who is suckling the Christ child.  Identifying with the small kneeling figures, vulnerable in this intensely intimate moment; I enter each day acutely aware of being at the mercy of this fleeting world beyond my control, having done my best to prepare but sure only of the here and now flooding my senses.'  I now have an infinitely better understanding of what it was I was saying.

Sunday 16 February 2014

The marginalia of animal skins

The two calfskins, and one sheepskin, have been soaking in the lime solution for well over the one to two weeks recommended, so I have been fearing they might be spoiled.  Today we rinsed them and set about removing the hair.  The wool pulled away from the sheepskin easily.  The smaller black and white calfskin was very unevenly loosened; we returned it to soak with tufts still attached randomly across it.  The hair on the larger brown and white calfskin came away when briskly plucked.

While pulling away handfuls of stinking hair from the very edges of the skin I got to thinking about the strange goings on in the margins of illuminated manuscripts, including the Cuerden Psalter.  Cynthia Johnston's wonderful talk about the Hart Collection manuscripts for the Friends of Blackburn Museum on Thursday had raised the question of 'why are these images there?'.  There are various theories on the subject, including those of Michael Camille, but as I scraped and plucked I started having my own. . . . . . 

At the very edges of the animal skin one confronts nipples, 'pockets' (that held the testicles?) and orifices such as the anus, and tubes of skin where the legs once were.  The sanitized folio of vellum has these trimmed from its borders but the parchment makers were acutely aware of the life, death, and sexuality just beyond its margins.

Friday 14 February 2014

St Valentine's Day

We seem to be losing the 'saint' reducing today to just 'Valentine's Day'.  St.Valentine is noted on the 14th February in the Cuerden Psalter and I wonder how the day was observed. . . . in the 13th century when it was written, but also since. . . how observances might have changed throughout its long life?

On 14th February 2013 I carved simple hearts into red 'Desiree' potatoes and placed a basket of them in the UCLan library so that anyone could take one.