Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell
Psalter, Janet Backhouse (University of Toronto Press; October
2000, 64 pages; $19.95)
pages of dry, explanatory text about life in the Middle Ages make
you want to stand up and shout "OK, show me!" then feast
your eyes on Medieval Rural Life in the Luttrell Psalter.
a detailed look at how a medieval plough worked? See page
17. Or the quick and dirty method swineherds used to feed their
pigs? Check out page 31...with more on the annual cycle of sowing,
weeding, harvesting, and threshing on the pages in between.
illustrations include domesticated boar, cows, geese, ferrets, rabbits,
and birds. (The house cat's obvious satisfaction with his prize
mouse is as comical today as it must have been in 1350.) Representations
of sports, pastimes, and musicians round
out this study of what life must have really been like.
is a rewarding reworking, with an impressive pedigree. It's based
on a work by Janet Backhouse, a former curator of illuminated manuscripts
at the British Museum.
the focus is less on the religious motifs and their meanings, with
a closer look at the realistic 14th century images illustrated for
its patron, Sir Geoffey Luttrell. He fell in with the rest of the
medieval well-to-do who wished to show off their wealth and piety
by sponsoring a medieval psalter,
or Book of Psalms.
the Luttrell Psalter survives today as a colorful archeological
dig into the meat-and-potatoes of medieval life, thanks in large
part to the custom of filling in dead space with marginal illustrations.
As such Sir Geoffrey would probably not be very pleased with this
popular, 'lower class' edition.
it continues to serve as a fascinating intro into the era for students
of the medieval...and a refreshing reminder for jaundiced-eyed scholars
about what attracted them to the Middle Ages in the first place.