Psalm 38 [RSV 39]

Jean Pucelle was active in Paris from 1319 as a lay book illuminator and the head of a great workshop engaged in book illumination at the time French illumination was the finest in Europe. To him are assigned three magnificent manuscripts of the first half of the fourteenth century, "The book of Hours of Jeanne II of Navarre," "The Billyng Bible," and "The Breviary of Belleville." The last manuscript, a Dominican breviary in two volumes, received its name from the first owner, Jeanne de Belleville, whose husband, Olivier de Clisson, was executed in the market place of Paris in 1343. As the couple's possessions were confiscated, the breviary probably entered the royal possession shortly after. At the beginning of the first volume is given an explanation of the psalter illustrations written by the same hand as the text. The illustrations portray the relationship of the seven sacraments to the three theological and four cardinal virtues established by St. Thomas Aquinas (1282) in De Sacramentis and the prophetic relationship of Jewish Scripture to Christian Scripture. The importance of the designs is attested by their being found with certain variations in seven copies and in both the large and small "Hours" of Jean, Duke of Berry, at the end of the fourteenth century. Written in the manuscript is the name of the artist, Pucelle, his assistants and the price paid for a piece.]



St. Gringoire says that he who sees and does not understand profits no more than he who hunts and catches nothing, and Solomon, the sage, agrees with him, when he says that one becomes wise by hearing and understanding, and when one sees anything obscurely shown, one should seek and ask for the meaning and explanation, and in all that follows to the end of the psalter, if there be any obscure figures, I wish to explain them so that each can understand and profit from them.

The Scripture says that God is not a man, fallible or subject to change; for however much man and all creatures may be changed as concerns himself, his works and his thoughts, nevertheless the Creator, the Supreme Artisan, cannot undergo change. And as it is He who ordained and established the Old and the New Testaments, it is proper that the two should be brought into agreement and unified. And the Saints agree with this in several places in the Holy Scripture, when they say that the New Testament is all present in symbols within the Old Testament. This accord is the meaning of the pictures hereafter.

First come the Apostles who are the authors of the New Testament, who gather clauses that are shown obscurely in the Old Testament, and uncover and clarify them and the articles of faith; so that for each of the twelve months there is one of the twelve apostles and one of the twelve Prophets, in such a way that the prophet gives a veiled prophecy to the Apostle and the Apostle uncovers it and makes it an article of faith. And since we speak of the Synagogue in the time of the Old Testament and the Church in the time of the New Testament in two different ways, in the broad and material sense and in the subtle and spiritual sense, I am putting both ways since at the back of each is a material synagogue from which the prophet draws a stone that he gives to the apostle with the prophecy and the synagogue crumbles away as the days move forward and the articles of faith increase as you can see in the pictures.

And since the articles of faith are the way and the gates to enter into Paradise, I am putting the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem above the twelve apostles, and the Virgin Mary [Virgin Mary: embodiment of Church], through whom the door was opened to us, holding a panel over each of the gates on which is painted in a picture the article of faith which the apostle has made below in words. And each panel corresponds to each article as is fitting.

And since St. Paul was not yet among the apostles when they made the Credo and assembled the articles of faith, I put his illumination, how he was illuminated and called, under the first article that the Virgin Mary holds on the panel; and then afterwards for the other months how he preached and demonstrated the articles of faith that the Virgin is holding over the gates to the e]even kinds of people to whom he wrote eleven epistles.

Then, after all this view, comes a page where the apostles gather together and erect a church from the stones that they have drawn and carried from the synagogue, and this church is made in the form that St. Paul devised in one of his epistles that reads thus: "Now therefore ye are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God; built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone"[Ephesians 2: 19-20]. So is the stone cross above the steeple and the weather vane is Angel Gabriel who announced to the Virgin Mary that she was the beginning of all this good. And at the right arm of the cross of this steeple is St. Paul who affirms the authority that I have put in French and that this church exposes.

And since the scriptures can be set forth in several ways, I am showing the crucifixion differently; I am putting it in the earthly Paradise, in the garden of delight, symbolized by the river that was in the Paradise of delights and that came forth and divided itself into four parts to water the garden of Paradise. It is Jesus Christ who came forth from Paradise and who was extended in four directions on the cross to water the garden of Paradise; because it was so dry that no fruit could grow, no soul could be planted there; therefore, he watered it with His Precious Blood that spread out through the garden in seven streams; and at the end of these streams are the seven sacraments of the Holy Church, from which she is entirely nourished, that issued from and found their strength in the side of Jesus Christ according to the clerics.

Again I show this crucifixion another way, and all that I say here is painted for whoever looks at it By the cross, that is in the garden of Delight, I mean the tree of Life and by Jesus Christ, the fruit. And, below, outside the garden is Eve, the first woman, who plucked the fruit against the will and command of our Lord. And before her is the evil angel who told her that she would take it. And beneath the cross is the good angel who foretold to the second woman, that is to the Virgin Mary, that she would take this fruit, Jesus Christ, through the command of the Lord. And she is there who hears the news quietly and holds out her hand to the fruit and says: "Behold the fruit of life that I give."

Thus we have [shown] how the apostles, executors of the New Testament, gathered the phrases of the Old Testament and brought them to Jesus Christ on the Cross; thus the New Testament was confirmed and sealed and the church was ordained and confirmed; and St. Peter, the founder and first bishop of the Holy Church, who puts out his hand to receive the keys of Paradise that Jesus Christ holds out to him. Then follows another page on which are the four tables of this Testament; there are the four Evangelists and the four beasts appropriate to them who are holding for them the four instruments of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

First, the eagle holds out to St. John the three nails that signify divinity, to the number of three persons, and which, like the divine, is charity, that draws and joins together hearts, therefore the nails are made to attract and join together; and St. John speaks especially of divinity.

Next, the angel extends to St. Matthew the cross that signifies the humanity of Jesus Christ who was a man stretched upon the Cross; and St. Matthew speaks especially of the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Next, the ox holds to St. Luke the spear that signifies the torment and passion; and St. Luke speaks especially of the Passion.

Thus we have the tablets of the New Testament and their figures through which this Testament is formed to endure forever without change.

In the center of these four tables, in a green field, is the treasure of the Holy Church, the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, from which this Testament is made. And the Virgin Mary who helped Him conquer, holds Him from one side and calls all to come and ask whether they have any part in this Testament. And St. Peter, on the other side, the first guardian of the treasure, who holds the key, is ready to give to each his part of the Testament. And so that each may readily see what there is, the mirror is in the middle of the treasure where it can readily be seen. Jesus Christ leaves nothing in His Testament except to those who do His will; therefore look at your life and see Jesus Christ in front of you, and the instruments of His passion, and see whether you do well His will.

And there is the shore of the streams issuing from his side; these are the seven sacraments which you see under the seven large letters of the Psalter which the Holy Ghost leads through the seven qualities to the seven virtues, for that is the way which the life of man and woman should follow in this world. And therefore I put the seven virtues under the seven Matins of the Psalter, for by Matins we mean life and by vespers, its end, according to the Scripture. And therefore I put the end of the world, the judgement day, at vespers. "Dixit Dominus." And do not take the path on the left where are the seven vices opposed to the seven virtues. And so you will come to the general reckoning on the day of judgement which you see painted above: "Dixit Dominus." And you will have the gracious gift given by God to his friends when He will say: "Come here my friends who have done my will; take the Kingdom of Paradise which is given over to you for ever without end." To this kingdom may the Holy Spirit lead us and may Jesus Christ, who is blest throughout all generations receive us. Amen, Amen, Amen.

[The translation is from the text is given in Fifty Manuscripts: A descriptive catalogue in the collection of Henry Y. Thompson, 2nd series, London, 1902. See also: F. G. Godwin, Speculum, 1951, pp. 609 ff.]


Duccio's Maesta

[Duccio di Buoninsegna, founder of the Sienese school of painting, is known principally for his famous altarpiece, the Majesty, painted for the cathedral of Siena between 1309 and 1311. To celebrate the removal of this great work from the artist's workshop to the high altar for which it painted, fellow townsmen and clerics formed a solemn procession, of which contemporary chroniclers wrote extravagantly. ]


At this time the altarpiece for the high altar was finished, and the picture which was called the "Madonna with the large eyes," or Our Lady of Grace, that now hangs over the altar of St. Boniface, was taken down. Now this Our Lady was she who had hearkened to the people of Siena when the Florentines were routed at Monte Aperto, and her place was changed because the new one was made, which is far more beautiful and devout and larger, and is painted on the back with the stories of the Old and New Testaments. And on the day that it was carried to the Duomo the shops were shut, and the bishop conducted a great and devout company of priests and friars in solemn procession, accompanied by the nine signiors, and all the officers of the commune, and all the people, and one after another the worthiest with lighted candles in their hands took places near the picture, and behind came the women and children with great devotion. And they accompanied the said picture up to to the Duomo, making the procession around the Campo, as is the custom, all the bells ringing joyously, out of reverence for so noble a picture as is this. And this picture Duccio Niccolo the painter made, and it was made in the house of the Muciatti outside the gate a Stalloreggi. And all that day they stood in prayer with great almsgiving for poor persons, praying God and His Mother, who is our advocate, to defend us by their infinite mercy from every adversity and all evil, and keep us from the hands of traitors and of enemies of Siena. [The account is translated in Charles Eliot Norton, Historical Studies of Church-Building in the Middle Ages, New York, 1880, pp. 144-145. The Italian text is found in G. Milanesi, Documenti per la storia dell'arte senese, Siena, 1854, I, p. 169. See also: Helene Wieruszowski, "Art and the Commune in the Time of Dante," Speculum, January 1944, p. 14.]