Madeline Caviness

title.none: Stanton, The Queen Mary Psalter (Madeline Caviness)

identifier.other: baj9928.0406.004 04.06.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Madeline Caviness, Tufts University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Stanton, Anne Rudloff. The Queen Mary Psalter: A Study of Affect and Audience. Series: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 91, pt. 6. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001. Pp. xxxiii, 287. ISBN: 0-87169-916-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.06.04

Stanton, Anne Rudloff. The Queen Mary Psalter: A Study of Affect and Audience. Series: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 91, pt. 6. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001. Pp. xxxiii, 287. ISBN: 0-87169-916-8.

Reviewed by:

Madeline Caviness
Tufts University

George Warner published British Library MS Royal 2B.vii in a black and white facsimile in 1912, thus securing its place among the most frequently cited of sumptuous English manuscripts dating from the early fourteenth century (p. 4, n. 5 lists the main contributions). Stanton had published several articles on aspects of its illumination, ownership, and codicology prior to this monograph, and she is evidently also familiar with a wide range of comparative material, notably the Psalter made for Queen Isabelle ca. 1308 that is now in Munich. Yet this book is the only serious attempt since Warner's study to come to terms with the extraordinary number and variety of pictures contained in the Psalter's prefatory and text pages. Long known for its Tudor owner, who acquired it in 1553, the Queen Mary Psalter has no indications of original or early ownership, though its luxury quality has led most scholars to associate its production with the London court.

Many previous studies had concentrated on the iconographic quirks of the Old Testament narratives in the prefatory pages, and the "marginalia" below the text and distributed throughout the book. The latter were executed in a lively style resembling that modernist English favorite, the water-color, but all the illuminations have usually been attributed to a single "Queen Mary Master." The affiliates of this style are usefully reviewed (pp. 18-25). The rather muddy half-tones of most illustrations fall short of vivid descriptions, but this is outweighed by the advantage of an affordable monograph that will be widely disseminated and discussed.

Shifting the argument from production to reception, Stanton gradually builds a case for the particular usefulness of this "functioning devotional and didactic book" to a queen (and) mother, most likely Isabelle of France who was married to Edward II in 1308 and ruled England in the name of their son in 1327-1330, or to someone in her circle. She rightly insists on the "intertextual and intervisual couplings between different types of signs--images (often of different sorts, in initials, miniatures, and margins) and words (again of different sorts, and different languages)" (8). In so doing, she meticulously fills lacunae in Warner's transcription of the prefatory texts (Appendix A), and proposes a "Liturgical Organization of the Imagery" (Appendix B). Throughout, she relates the images to adjacent texts, and seldom reproduces images without the whole page. Similarly, as far as possible she insisted on a plate layout that manifests whole openings as design units, so that her readers can appreciate the narratives that span verso and recto. It is welcome to find ample discussion and illustration of the richly colored and gilded images that illustrate the gospel story (beginning with a Tree of Jesse and the Holy Kinship of St. Anne and the Virgin Mary (ff. 67v-68, Col. Pls. 3A & B, arguably the "central image of the book, 242). Stanton rightly emphasizes the unity of the book, for instance finding that "many scenes [of Christ's life] are footnoted by drawings of martyred saints, the glowing colors of the sacred story providing the model for the pale echoes of the saints" (73). She also notes an apt pairing (in the same mode I would have said) of the "pale tinted drawings and informally-written text in vernacular language" that lends historicity to the Old Testament stories by association with the chronicle tradition (76).

The section on function is marked by a very lucid and valuable treatment of the differing uses made of Psalters, as opposed to the newer form of Hours (pp. 58-80). Stanton concludes that the slow-moving weekly cycle, as distinct from an intense daily cycle, makes the psalter more suitable for family instruction, while the hours served for private devotion. She notes that this may explain why few psalters have an image of the owner in prayer, such as became the norm for women's books of hours. She loosely relates the whole text-image program of the Queen Mary Psalter to the precepts adumbrated by Edmund of Abingdon in the prior century, finding contemplation of God's creation in the marginalia, of His Word in the text, and the Incarnation in the life of Christ that illustrates the Psalms (77). Indeed, there are many elements in this psalter that associate it with the contemplative affect of the Books of Hours that were more fashionable in France.

The meat of the book presents "The Iconographic Context: Thematic emphases in the Queen Mary Psalter" (pp. 81-189). Stanton demonstrates the linkage of all modes of expression in the book to three themes: women and motherhood, including the "misuse of female power"; kinship; and leaders such as Moses and David making responsible or mistaken decisions for their people. The elaboration of sequences such as the child born to Abraham by Hagar, made illegitimate here by the depiction of his marriage to Sarah as a prelude (figs. 28-30), at the expense of more political aspects of Abraham's life, demonstrate these predilections. Rachel's death in childbirth is avoided by eliding her with Jacob's surviving wife, thus also avoiding the topic of his bigamy. In some cases, Stanton finds that French rather than English traditions are followed, noting the many coincidences with the stained glass of the royal Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and with the Bible Moralisee manuscripts. She also associates the emphasis on Hagar's adultery and the avoidance of Jacob's bigamy with the moral aversion that was an aftermath of scandals at the French court.

A short final chapter, "The Patronage Context: Affect and Audience of the Queen Mary Psalter" (pp. 191-244), cautiously presents the very plausible hypothesis that the audience for its rich didactic program was a married royal woman with ties to both the English and the French court. In all probability this person was Philippe IV's daughter Isabelle, bride of Edward II. With extraordinary clarity and erudition, Stanton reviews the features of Queen Mary's Psalter that associate it with English court productions of the decades before 1320 on one hand, and aspects that belong to a Capetian tradition. Some comparisons seem over-enthusiastic, as between the multi-storied architectural frames that are flat in this book and perspectival in the Taymouth Hours (p. 199, figs. 7, 77), but there is plenty of convincing overlap in subject matter. A minor emendation is needed in the transmission of English compositions to France, in that the Peterborough Psalter passed through the hands of Clemence, widow of Louis le Hutin, about 1318, before being bought by Phillip VI of France in 1328 (p.194 n. 7), so it was likely seen by Isabelle in Paris. Along the way, Stanton offers sound suggestions about the intended recipients of other books, such as that Queen Isabelle is seen successively in the Taymouth Hours with her two sons, John of Eltham and Edward III; I calculate from the dates mentioned that this should situate that book between 1330 and 1336. A detailed account of Isabelle's movements up to the mid '30s helps to develop the possible connections between her life and the themes highlighted in Queen Mary's Psalter, and suggests that the psalter was directed toward the education of the future king, Edward III, around 1318-20. The argument is so strong that it appears almost like false modesty (or a vestige of cautious dissertationese) that Stanton persists in calling it "speculation" (240-41).

Overall, this is an important study that demonstrates the way emphasis on reception has enriched our perceptions of medieval works in recent decades. At the same time, the author still adheres closely to iconography and iconology, with attention to the broad modes of representation, rather than the specifics of style. She aptly replaces the intentions of an elusive patron by a reconstruction of the effect of the work on contemporary viewers, but more could be laid at the door of ideology, the unconscious impulse to perpetuate dominant cultural values. Stanton resists bold deconstructive leaps; she has a tendency to take images at face value, emphasizing their entertaining aspects over their violence (perhaps led by the calm style described on p. 18), and seldom stepping aside to note the ideological as well as didactic work they are capable of. Hence the discussion of human hybrids is very thin (45-47), gliding over the fundamental problem that such creatures are against nature, by referring to Sandler's taxonomies. And a plausible decoding of some scenes to reference recent disasters, such as the Great Famine and the marital problems of the last Capetian kings (49), does not lead to further reflection on their didactic value. Indeed, by separating the grand sequences of below-text themes (bestiary sequence, hybrids, courtly genre scenes, miracles of the virgin, saints' lives, pp. 11-53) she sometimes misses links between them. Much more could be said about the marginal imagery--for instance St. Margaret flagellates not one but two devils who appear conjoined in fornication, in concert with the prayer expressed in the collect above to keep one from it (fig. 8B). Multivalence leaves open whether the saint is a figure for Isabelle who struggled to part her husband from the men he loved too much, or of the generally negative attitude toward sexuality propagated by churchmen at the time.