The Great Canterbury Psalter

The Great Canterbury Psalter f. 101v, psalm 58 Deliver me from my enemies, O God


f. 101v, psalm 58 Deliver me from my enemies, O God

The miniature in this psalm, described as a “resurrection canticle”, toys with contrasts in the spaces created by two registers. In line once again with the beginning of the psalm (...quando missit Saül, et custodivit domus ejus, ut eum interficeret // when Saul sent and watched his house to kill him), we return to the history of Saul who mounts a guard around David’s house in order to put him to death (I Sam. 19: 11). Michol, David’s wife, upon hearing of Saul’s plans, warned her husband and hung him out of the window of a quadrangular tower representing his abode, thereby saving him from the clutches of his persecutor (“Deposuit eum per fenestram: porrò ille abiit, et aufugit, atque salvatus est”, I Sam. 19: 12). The same scene shows a group of haggard soldiers waiting in vain whilst their prey flees. A city besieged by starving dogs precedes David’s escape who cleverly deprives the hunter of his prey (v. 7, Convertentur ad vesperam: et famen patientur ut canes, et circuibunt civitatem // They shall return at evening, and shall suffer hunger like dogs: and shall go round about the city). At the same time, the theme seeks to demonstrate that the soul must be built like an impenetrable fortress for, despite being devoted to God, it can be attacked at any time (v. 10 Fortitudinem meam ad
te custodiam, quia Deus susceptor meus es
// I will keep my strength to thee: for thou art my protector). All this is reflected in two adjoining sequences separated by a reddish frame but both featuring very prominent architectonic elements.

David is a prefigure of Christ. The latter will escape the harassment of his enemies, including the guardians of his tomb, in an act that will surprise everyone (v. 9, Et tu Domine deridebis eos: ad nihilum deduces omnes gentes // But thou, O Lord, shalt laugh at them: thou shalt bring all the nations to nothing). The victory over death, a death pursuing David too, unsuccessfully, is manifested in the Resurrection. This surprises even the closest friends and relations whilst being overlooked by the Roman guard fast asleep at the foot of the tomb. Christ is depicted emerging from the veined stone tomb, now with the lid removed, in one of the first known explicit images of the Resurrection in Catalan, Gothic painting. Once again the upper image overlaps the frame and enlarges the figure of Christ covered with a pink veil displaying his wounds. In his right hand he brandishes the cross transformed into a spear and in his left, a scroll with an imaginary inscription. The theme replaces the usual Visit of the Marys to the Tomb. It must also be said that, in this instance, the tomb represents the house that David abandoned, so clearly described by St Augustine, an idea that must have encouraged and justified the choice of the Resurrection rather than the Visitatio Sepulchri.

The bottom register features two spaces: one containing the men unable to see God, blindfolded and enclosed in a room, and another in which they are able to overcome the threshold of blindness and perceive Christ’s presence, and then, by means of the rite of baptism, adopt the New Law. The meaning of sight is of prime importance as a symbol of the faith that opposes the old, unseeing Synagogue and the blindness of the Jews represented by the men on the left, unable to recognise the true God. Only some will surrender to their lack of sight and be baptised by the new Church. A priest acts in this respect, baptising in a communal pool the adult men who are to be converted ad vesperam according to St Augustine after doing penance (Act. 2: 38). The lobulated baptismal font can be related to those depicted in the St Mark reredos (Manresa) and in the London Decretum Gratiani. The Jews are compared to the dogs who must hunger for and desire divine grace in order to recuperate God. This comparison may have suggested the harassment of the city in which dogs of different breeds and colours linger at its closed gates. The main figure in the lower register’s last scene is Christ upon a small mountain with a scroll in each hand beneath the space occupied by the Resurrection. The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor is alluded to but not portrayed here, appearing on f. 132r. People are not present in their usual numbers which may suggest that this is a general reference to the divine presence defined on the basis of previous approaches to the conversion and acceptance of the divine law, the new law, following the demise of the Old Law.

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