Les Enluminures


The Saxby Psalter-Hours (use of Sarum)
Illuminated manuscript, on parchment, in Latin and Middle English
1 full-page frontispiece and 20 historiated initials perhaps by Giles Banaster and Robert Hillary
England, probably London, c. 1425-40

English manuscripts have come down to us in far fewer numbers than their continental counterparts, in part because of the ferocity of the English Reformation, and exportable examples of this quality and importance are therefore rare. An impressively grand English manuscript, the Saxby Psalter-Hours opens with a full-page picture, the size of a small panel painting and a prime example of International Gothic art.  It also includes high-quality examples of signed illuminations by professional London artists.  Prayers for the hours, as well as the psalms, are joined with shorter texts in Middle English verse and prose to comprise a custom-made volume.

217 ff. on parchment (slightly velvety), two folios with square patches (ff. 94 and 217), modern foliation in pencil in top outer corner recto, with penwork-decorated catchwords and corrections, ruled in light red and brown ink (justification 187 x 123 mm.), with up to 24 lines per page, written below the top ruled line in a Gothic quadrata bookhand in black ink, FULL-PAGE FRONTISPIECE with the Annunciation, f. 7v, and TWENTY HISTORIATED INITIALS of between four to seven lines, many with copiously decorated borders and abundant gold, with signs of use throughout and very minor staining.  Bound in nineteenth-century English black blind-tooled leather. Boxed.  Dimensions c. 285 x 205 mm.


1. A blank space has been left for a coat of arms on the first page of the text.  Based on the illustration, the manuscript was made in London, and many southern English feasts listed in the calendar confirm this origin.

2.In the Saxby family by the early sixteenth century with family births dated 1504 and 1509 added to the calendar.  Saxby is not an uncommon name in Early Modern England; they were shippers, farmers, preachers, and David de Saxby was a gentleman at the court of Richard III in the fifteenth century. Could he be the first owner, since the Annunciation bears close resemblance to an Annunciation in the Hours of Richard III?

3. Thomas William Bramston (1796-1871), who represented South Essex in the House of Commons in 1835-1865 and was married to Eliza, daughter of Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey, who commanded the Temeraire at Trafalgar, with Bramston’s nineteenth-century armorial bookplate;

4. Bernard Quaritch, Catalogue of Manuscripts, 369 (September 1886), presumably bought by Sir Bruce Ingram (1877-1963), who was managing editor of the “Illustrated London News” and grandson of its founder, as well as an important collector of Old Master drawings;

5. London, Sotheby’s 19 May 1936, Catalogue of important illuminated manuscripts the property of Captain Bruce Ingram, lot 26, with fold-out pl. XIV (of f. 100); to Edwards, his catalogue 624, item 247;

6. Sotheby’s, London, 13 July 1977, lot 81 (with color and black-and-white plates of ff. 7v, 100, 20, 145, 156v, and 167v); then Christie’s, London, 27 June 1979, lot 153, bought by Maggs;

7. Paris and Chicago, Les Enluminures, Catalogue 9 [2000], no. 29; hence Private Collection, United States.


ff. 1-6v, Calendar, use of Sarum, with many southern English feasts in red, including St. Erkenwald “londoniensis” (30 April) and the Translation of Edward the Confessor (14 October);

ff. 8-28v, Hours of the Virgin, use of Sarum, with Lauds followed by suffrages to Saints Michael, John the Baptist, All Patriarchs, Peter and Paul, All Apostles, Edmund of East Anglia, Thomas Becket (erased), All Martyrs, Giles, Nicolas, All Confessors, Mary Magdalene, Katherine, Margaret, All Matrons and Virgins, and for Relics, and Peace;

ff. 28v-38, Prayers and hymns to the Virgin, including “Salve regina” and the Salve virgo virginum” in rhyming verse; the prayer “Domine ihesu Christe” on the Seven Words on the Cross, and other prayers;

ff. 38-40, Gospel Sequences, with that of John last instead of first;

ff. 40-61v, paraphrase of the Passion narrative followed by various prayers:  Bede on the Seven Last Works, the “O intemerata,” prayers to St. Katherine and others, the litany of the Virgin, prayers on the Wounds of Christ, the Seventy-Two Names of the Virgin, and many other similar prayers, often with offers of indulgence for their use, etc.;

ff. 62-63, Prayer in Middle English verse: “Mary modyr well thou be/ Mary maydyn thow thence on me …”; f. 63v, ruled, otherwise blank;

ff. 64-73v, Seven Penitential Psalms and litanies, including Saints Alban, Swithun, Birinus, Edith, etc.;

ff. 74-87, Office of the Dead, use of Sarum; f. 87v, ruled, otherwise blank;

ff. 88-91v, The Fifteen Oes, with a rubric in Middle English: “Who that seyth every day in the year these prayers folowyng by the yeres ende he shalt have honored and worschiped every wound of oure lorde ihesu crist and have grete mede therfor …”;

ff. 92-99v, Psalter of Saint Jerome;

ff. 100-217v, Psalms, with tituli in red, followed by Canticles (f. 203) and litany (f. 210v), originally all ending on f. 214v; a prayer “Kyrieleyson, Christeleyson, Christe audi nos …” added at the end.

The Book of Hours originates in the text of the Psalter, and some of the earliest examples of Books of Hours, starting in the 1250s, are hybrid Psalter-Hours.  However, by the fifteenth century, it is most unusual to find a combined Psalter-Hours; Scott could identify only three examples for the entire fifteenth century.



f. 7v, Annunciation (full-page)

The subjects of the 20 historiated initials are:

[the following group attributed to Giles Banaster]

f. 11v, Agony in the Garden (Lauds);

f. 20r, Arrest of Christ (Prime);

f. 22, Flagellation (Terce);

f. 23, Christ carrying the Cross (Sext);

f. 24v, Crucifixion with the Good and Bad Thieves (None);

f. 25v, Deposition (Vespers);

f. 26v, Entombment (Compline);

f. 30, Virgin and Child;

f. 64, Last Judgment [signed?];

f. 74, Funeral Mass;

f. 88, The Holy Cross;

f. 92, Saint Jerome;

[the following group attributed to Robert Hillarie]

f. 100, King David in Prayer (Ps. 1);

f. 116, King David Pointing to his Eyes (Ps. 26);

f. 126, Christ Holding Two Scrolls (Ps. 38);

f. 135v, The Fool (Ps. 52);

f. 145, David Drowning (Ps. 68);

f. 156v, Priest Playing the Carillon (Ps. 80);

f. 167v, Clerics Singing at a Lectern (Ps. 97);

f. 180, The Trinity (Ps. 109).

The Saxby Psalter-Hours opens with a striking full-page frontispiece of the Annunciation executed in an International Gothic style dependent on southern Netherlandish traditions as practiced by artists such as Hermann Scheere and the Master of the Beaufort Saints.  The size of a small panel painting, the Annunciation derives from a composition in the fourteenth-century Psalter-Hours of Eleanor de Bohun (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS 18.6.5) that was evidently reused in a historiated initial in the fifteenth-century Hours of Richard III (London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 474).  The pale oval faces surrounded by yellow hair, the elongated figures with their graceful long-fingered hands, and the green tiles and red background typify this style.  Tipped in and by a different artist than those who executed the rest of the manuscript, the Annunciation page must have been planned from the beginning because of the harmony of decoration with the facing page.

The Annunciation miniature is an extraordinary survival of English painting from the first half (close to the first quarter) of the fifteenth century.  Kathleen Scott has identified only five other English devotional books of this period with full-page frontispieces.  For its scale and quality, our Annunciation bears comparison with the Wyndham Payne Crucifixion, which is larger (378 x 259 mm.) than the present example, but similarly monumental (London, British Library, MS 58078).  The Wyndham Payne Crucifixion and the Annunciation share another feature:  they are both connected to the workshop of Hermann Scheere, an artist probably from the Rhineland identified as working in London.  Active c. 1403 to 1419, Hermann Scheere was trained as a panel painter, which may well account for the monumentality of some of his art.  Whereas earlier writers suggested that the Saxby Annunciation predates the much smaller Annunciation in the Hours of Richard III, the latter miniature dates c. 1420 from the earlier campaign of the Hours and is thus roughly contemporary of our miniature and from the same circle.  Compare the borders, backgrounds, elegant elongated hands, and the palette. 

The brightly colored historiated initials beginning in the Hours of the Virgin and continuing through the Psalter of St. Jerome, all surrounded by highly burnished gold leaf, represent “professional London work at its most sophisticated period.”  Kathleen Scott attributes one group of these initials to one of the artists (Hand C) who painted the Book of Benefactors of Saint Alban’s Abbey (London, British Library, Cotton MS Nero D. vii) in the later 1450s.  It is tempting to affirm Scott’s identification of this artist as Giles Banaster, an illuminator recorded in the London book trade in 1454 and 1455, because in the border of the Last Judgment (f. 64) is an inscription: Deus propicius esto michi peccatori Banaster (i.e., “God have mercy on me, the sinner Banaster”).  He must have been active at least until 1458, because the Book of Benefactors includes a picture commemorating King Henry VI’s visit to the monastery in 1458.  He presumably had a good enough reputation outside the city of London that it was worth bringing him twenty miles away to St. Alban’s to complete this work.

The illuminated initials that preface the Psalms between ff. 106 and 193, sixteen in total, are due to a third artist, whose name may be recorded in a series of faint lead point inscriptions next to these initials, which appear to read “Hillarie.” They may indicate which initials were executed by an individual within the workshop and thus may identify this hand as Robert Hillary, who is recorded in the London book trade in 1424 (see Paul Christianson, A Directory of London Stationers and Book Artisans 1300-1500, New York, 1990, pp. 76, 133).  In Christianson’s entry for Gilbert Melton, a limner and stationer, recorded 1424-55, a dispute that involved Melton on 19 July 1424 was attested by Robert Hillary and John Portyngton. The occupations of Hillary and Portyngton are not given.  Neither is recorded elsewhere as being involved in any way with the book trade.  The best we can say is that there was a person called Hillary in London at about the right date, who at one moment had a connection with the trade.   (After all, the renowned William de Brailes is never named as an illuminator either, and all we know is that his name appears in the company of others who were indeed documented as stationers and illuminators).  The identification of Robert Hillary as the artist of our miniatures remains tantalizing.

The importance of the Saxby Psalter-Hours emerges more fully considered against the background of English book production. English manuscripts have come down to us in far fewer numbers than their continental counterparts, to some extent because of the ferocity of the English Reformation.  Partly because of the survival pattern, we know far less about the English book trade than we do for other major continental centers, such as Paris or Bruges.  Documents reveal that a guild of illuminators was first established in London only in 1393; in 1403, this guild merged the illuminators with the scribes.  Only thirty-nine men and one apprentice are documented as illuminators in London between 1385 and 1474.  They were centered around Paternoster Row (near St. Paul’s Cathedral). Surviving manuscripts are even more rare for book production in other centers in England (for example, Bury St. Edmunds, Canterbury, Glastonbury, Norwich, York), discouraging a credible characterization of provincial styles. The Saxby Psalter-Hours presents us with a richly illuminated London production, in which one and perhaps two artists are identified with reasonable certitude, and with a full-page painting related to the work of the artist responsible for bringing the International Gothic Style infused with elegance and naturalism to London at the beginning of the fifteenth century.  Such manuscripts are highly rare on the market, and exportable examples even more so.


Brown, C. and R. H. Robbins.  The Index of Middle English Verse, New York, 1945, no. 2119 (the present manuscript)

Scott, K. L.  “Design, Decoration, and Illustration,” in J. Griffiths and D. Pearsall, eds., Book Production and Publishing in Britain, 1375-1475, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 31-64, and p. 56, note 22 (the present manuscript).

Scott, K. L.  Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1390 (A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, 6), 2 vols., London, Harvey Miller, 1996, vol. II, pp. 238, 249, 379 (the present manuscript)

Read full Description

Reference Number: 140