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Psalter and New Testament 

A Psalter and New Testament (Dumbarton Oaks Manuscript 3)
Middle Byzantine, c. 1084
Tempera, gold leaf, and ink on vellum
W.10.3 x H.16.2 cm


This manuscript was made to fit comfortably in the hand, although it contains all the Psalms, the Canticles, and the New Testament. Never very common, such compact manuscripts were primarily produced in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, reflecting the expression of personal piety that flourished at that time. Whereas all manuscripts are labor-intensive projects requiring the preparation of vellum pages, the hand writing of text, the painting of illustrations, and the binding of the completed project-this is an especially luxurious book with a text written extensively in gold.

The manuscript is generously illustrated. It opens with an image of King David, author of the Psalms, and contains other illustrations of individual Psalms; then follow figures connected with poetic texts known as Canticles from the Old Testament; and finally portraits of Gospel and Letter writers of the New Testament. The Second Canticle of Moses is illustrated here, accompanying Deuteronomy 32: Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai from the hand of God. Moses' sandals, which he was ordered to remove, are on the ground behind him and a personification of Mount Sinai is in the lower left corner. The bright, animated colors and Moses' wind-blown drapery communicate some of the spiritual dynamism of this face-to-face encounter with God.

This manuscript can be dated to 1084 based on its Easter tables. These are a chronological list included in many medieval manuscripts to designate the day for Easter, the most important moveable feast day in the liturgical year. The Easter tables in this manuscript begin with the year 1084, providing the date when it was written, and continue on through 1101.

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