May 16, 2013

That Page in the Luttrell Psalter and a Few Others Like It

Go to the British Library's site for images online,, search for filename 071982, and you will see the page in the Luttrell Psalter that shows a woman spinning yarn with a spinning wheel.  The psalter is from the fourteenth century.

A black and white detail of this image is commonly included in books about handspinning to illustrate the earliest example of a spinning wheel in Europe.

The psalter is in colour; the yarn is red.  The wheel is turned by hand and the yarn spun off the tip of a spindle driven by the wheel, as with a modern great wheel.  The base is very level, more like wheels from Asia than great wheels now.

There is a detail that gives you a closer view, if you search for 003937.

You can find a similar fourteenth century spinning wheel and handspinner shown in the Smithfield Decretals, filename 023698 and another wheel at 065458.

You may recognize the picture from De claris mulieribus, 061928.  Handspinning books include it because it shows a distaff and spindle, hand cards, and wool combs in use in the fifteenth century.

If you like cats, filename stowe_ms_17_f034r from a fourteenth century Book of Hours is a lot of fun: the cat has caught a spindle in midair.  The free-standing distaff is worth seeing as well, it's quite tall and appears carved at the base.

In the Luttrell Psalter there is an illustration of a woman feeding a hen and chicks while holding her distaff and spindle under her arm.  In the database it is filename 071921 (full page) and 057655 (detail).

The same manuscript has an illustration of a woman holding a distaff over her head to strike the man at her feet.  You can find it under 071862.  On the page, the accompanying written verses* are from Psalm 31 in the Vulgate, and their content has nothing to do with the illustrations.

Sarah uses a distaff to beat Hagar over the head in the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, filename c13160-09.  In Smithfield Decretals a woman uses her distaff to beat Reynard the Fox, 024291.

The database has a number of other images for weaving, spinning, and dyeing from different time periods and places.  And, of general interest there are images of manuscripts, drawings, paintings, sculpture, carvings, pottery, mosaics, weaponry, coins, jewellery, silver, and textiles.  The images don't just originate with British collections, either, I saw some Iron Age objects marked as being from Museum Hallstatt.

*I find old manuscripts difficult to read so I took what I could decipher, ran it through an online translator, then went looking for something like it in an online concordance.  Here's what I found, verses 4 through most of 6.  Enjoy, if you like Latin.
Quoniam die ac nocte gravata est
super me manus tua conversus
sum in aerumna mea; dum configitur
mihi; spina [diapsalma]
Delictum meum cognitum tibi; feci
et iniustitiam meam non abscondi
Dixi confitebor adversus me
iniustitiam meam Domino et tu
remisisti impietatem peccati mei [diapsalma]
Pro hac orabit ad te omnis
sanctus in tempore oportuno
Verumtamen in diluvio aquarum
multarum ad [eum non adproximabunt]
There is a discrepancy between the numbering of the Psalms in the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the original, and in English translations such as the King James Version, so if you want to read the verses in English then look up Psalm 32.

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