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Language Log

Monday, Jun. 24, 2019 - 11:20 a.m.

I spent a lot of time the last 2 days looking at every page of the digitized Luttrell Psalter. I wonder a lot about the people who made it. Wikipedia tells me scholars believe there was one scribe and two artists. Looks more like 3 to me. But the progression is interesting.

First third: many grotesques and some people with really expressive faces, really strong illumination game. But the monsters are a little formulaic.

Then there’s about 25 pages where it’s very basic. The leaves look like they’re done by the same hand but nothing figural at all.

Then suddenly it explodes. Incredibly skillful, creative depictions of medieval life, portraiture, and the grotesques again, which are now much more detailed and creative. More animal parts incorporated, including more fish and even some octopus tentacles at one point. Top notch work that continues for another 100 pages or so.

Then it stops and someone who really sucks in comparison takes over. They get a bit better over the course of the manuscript— they try a couple dragons, a couple birds with people heads, but nothing like the other guy was doing. There are a couple pages in the middle where the skill is good again but not as ambitious at all. Then back to the inexperienced hand.

So what happened there? Did the guy go to Italy for a few years to pick up some skills before coming back and doing that incredible work? It would explain the new variety of animals incorporated into his imaginings. And then what happened? Psychotic break, or did he die or what?

I wish there was some way to know....

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