Portraits of Kings

Beinecke MS 417: Psalter

Beinecke MS 417. Psalter. England, c. 1325.

Though both were produced in England, the two portraits shown here could not be more different from one another. The first is an early fourteenth-century English psalter from the region of East Anglia. Psalters, or collections of psalms, were intended to be recited throughout the day following a prescribed liturgical cycle. This psalter clearly belonged to a wealthy individual, who saw illumination as a means to display his devotion and, perhaps, his social class as well.

The psalter is opened to the first folio of the Book of Psalms, as set out in the liturgical calendar. Within the initial “B”, in a conventional depiction, King David (the traditional author of the Psalms) is shown playing the harp. The artist has used a tool to work the gold leaf behind David, using dots to emboss a pattern of swirling leaves. Several additional figures, both human and composite, most playing instruments, fill the elaborate border around the text block. The banderole, or speech scroll, of the angel at the bottom proclaims, “Ave Maria” (Hail Mary), and in another banderole a monk on the right side responds, “Ave Maria gratia” (Hail Mary full of grace).

Takamiya MS 136: Drawing of King Edmund the Martyr

Takamiya MS 136.Psalter (fragment). East Anglia, c. 1290-1310.

The second portrait is a sketch on waste vellum of King Edmund the Martyr (d. 20 November 869) that probably was produced in the region of East Anglia in the fourteenth century. Viking invasions destroyed any records that may have documented Edmund’s life, but according to several fictitious lives penned in the twelfth century, he was martyred by invading Danes after he refused to renounce Christianity. The king was beaten, shot with arrows, and beheaded. The royal crown and oversized arrow shown here are iconographic symbols associated with Edmund the Martyr.

Portraits of Kings