Exaltation and Humiliation: The Decorated Initials of the Corbie Psalter (Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 18)

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Very few illuminated Psalters survive from the seventh and eighth centuries, yet little attention has been given to the Corbie Psalter (Amiens Bibliothèque municipale, MS 18). The manu- script's sixty figurative initials contain images ranging from the Nativity to Nathan 's admonition of David and so offer vital
insights into early approaches to Psalter illustration. Whereas earlier publications have noted the manuscript's stylistic simlarity to the Book of Kells and Mercian sculpture, the present study reveals that the Psalter's treatment of word-image relationships also has much in common with Insular art. The Corbie Psalter's illustrations follow the Insular Psalter tradition, especially in its focus on the struggle of the individual, the strength of God's protection , and the promise of eventual victory of good over evil. Much of the manuscript's imagery carries multivalent meaning , collapsing time so as to yoke present actions to future and eternal consequences: those who suffer and humble themselves on earth will be glorified in heaven , and those who proudly elevate themselves in the present will be humiliated at the time of judgment. Many of the figurative images do not refer to a single event or person but instead incorporate multiple biblical and exegetical references to illustrate a specific theme, such as prayerful humility before God or spiritual strength in adversity. The article concludes with a consideration of the implications of such open and multivalent imagery on the manuscript's readership and function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-115
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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