… and narrow compass [edited and corrected]

Supplementary images: war-tents in Utrecht psalter. (28/02/2015)


A query kindly offered me by Sir Hubert (here) then led me, via a number of other Psalters, to one from the thirteenth century known as the Psalter-Offices of Joffroy d’Aspremont, where there is an image – not reproduced online as far as I can discover – showing a woman with an aspergillum, or sprinkler.

* Aspergillus would be correct in classical Latin, and is sometimes but not invariably seen in clerical Latin.

But thence to another thirteenth-century manuscript, the ‘Chanson d’Aspremont’* (1230-1240) where on folio 10v I was amazed to see two pictures of a conical tent made rather like some handle-less umbrella, and quite without any addition which would give the inhabitant elbow-room.

*(BL Lansdowne 782 Chanson d’Aspremont fol 10v) .

Here are those images. One shows the tent being erected, the other as it looked with a person seated within.

conical tents composite

It takes a most unusual form, very different from the normal kind of pavillion tents that are everywhere seen in medieval imagery of festivals, wars or pleasure gardens. Those I expect you know well enough, but if you don’t object to having to log on to a site, you can see them here in the tenth-century Prudentius manuscript  (Burgerbibliothek Bern Cod. 264) folio 65.

It is possible that what we are seeing in this case is the top or ‘umbrella’ section of an ordinary pavilion, erected as immediate cover for generals and kings, but I’ve seen no documentary evidence that this was ever done. If you have, please leave a note.

Postscript 28 Feb. 2015: Well, nobody stopped to leave a note, but I did hear on the grapevine that this picture sent many rushing to the Utrecht Psalter. That doesn’t actually solve the problem of origins, because the style of that Psalter, as you may know, is anything but typical of Latin Christian works even though it has become iconic for many historians of Germany’s gradual conversion to Christianity. To quote a wiki article (because it’s right on this point):

Many of the Frankish aristocracy followed Clovis in converting to Christianity, but the conversion of all his subjects occurred after considerable effort and in some regions over the next two centuries.

There’s a Brit.Lib. cataloguer’s comment that the king in that conical tent may be meant for Charlemagne, though the Normans and not Charlemagne made the fleur-de-lys an heraldic symbol for Christian royalty. The design is very interesting – not unlike that which pictured below, from Giotto’s “Presentation of the Christ at the Temple”. carried by an angel in Giotto’s  ‘Mourning of Christ’.


detail from frescos in the Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel)’s series of 19 scenes from the life of Christ. Painted 1304-1306 by Giotto. This angel appears in Scene 3: ‘the Presentation of Christ’

However – still on the point of that tent – the Utrecht Psalter shows several. Here are two examples:


Utrecht Psalter

The king’s war-tent is surmounted by a single cross.

As explanation of the royal sceptre the whole ‘oriflamme’ story as seems a bit of a red herring to me, and the nasty looking weapon which is seen in a ninth century mosaic as support for the  oriflamme looks to me as if meant to represent that soldier’s lance which pierced Christ’s side – hence signifying death –  the oriflamme signifying rather the promise of resurrection: Christ’s surviving death and so forth. Immortality despite mortality sort of thing. It’s a pike of some sort I’d say, but not a flower of any sort. The Petrine line governed peace, the royal line war. Or, of course, the mosaicist may have erred; the design becomes a bit confused at that point.

In fact, I erred in being too definite, too soon. Some additional remarks on the subject are included in  ‘Chronological strata revisited. ” but I have not changed my mind that what we see in folio 85v-1 is not a fleur-de-lys.

Peter confers oriflamme on Charlemagne 9thC Ravenna

Whatever the case, by the thirteenth century there’s nothing unusual about a king or emperor holding a fleur de lys. Here it is associated with Frederick II of Sicily, who may have introduced it as a Norman motif by way of a pun on Lilybaeum.

Frederick II Manfred MS

What is rare is that conical tent in the ‘Chanson d’Aspremont’ manuscript, and  its being a vernacular and temporary structure, there’s little chance of determining any original time or place for its first use.

Anybody could ‘invent’ something of the sort by tossing a cloak over some bean-stakes or over a stook, but it is not seen in much formal medieval art. In this case, datable evidence dates the datable evidence, not the object pictured, but other evidence is  negligible.  Which is not to say but that, by discovering any significance acquired for it, we may be able to learn more about these pictures. I suppose readers have guessed why I’m going into thirteenth century depictions of a conical tent which look like an umbrella …

It’s those intermediate roundels on folio 86v which, like the new sort of maritime charts I’ve mentioned, evoke and/or  employ intersecting radial lines as indications of direction, distance and time. Might they also (on folio 86v) represent places – perhaps major hubs of the older routes?

I think it worth mentioning, in that context, that in Latin works the tent was a well-known image of the heavens  -a motif well known to the west by reference to Biblical literature and to the east because most of the western Bible came from the eastern side of the Mediterranean, whose history culture and customs it reflects. So:

 ”[It is] he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof [are] as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:” Isaiah 40:22

which seems to me to equate the teeming hordes of people with pests, while also reminding us that the Feast of Tents (Sukkot) was when eastern, and Jewish,  people lived out of their homes –  originally in the fields in temporary shelters that are termed Sukka (s.) in the Hebrew and in Latin tabernaculum (s), though the Latin means both a tent and a repository of sacred bread.

In the Latin west, the idea of  ‘tabernaculum’ became inflated – or elaborated – though religious comment and homily, apparently beginning with Eusebius (‘from the east’) and following him,  by Cassiodorus.   On their treatment of it, I’d recommend readers to Mary Carruthers’ The Craft of Thought,  though I do want to quote her on one point:

The Tabernacle and Temple of the Lord was formed according to heaven’s pattern [ad instar caeli fuisse formatum] which, painted skillfully in its proper configuration [depicter subtiliter lineamentis propriis]…

(op.cit., p.235)

I’m now considering whether there’s any evidence of such thinking in the three ‘canopy’ roundels on folio 86v, though if so, I will have to re-consider whether the marker I’ve suggested is Avignon mayn’t be a setting-out point rather than the terminus.  These canopies are certainly given the heavens’ ornaments of stars and/or winds, though as I read them, these are three only of what were originally four such – the one posited for the North West having been filled instead with the matter originally set North, this in order that the North roundel might include that ‘mini-map’ showing critical points in the Mediterranean, none of which had been part of the original map.

 Upper register:  North-East ‘canopy’ (left); South-East ‘canopy’ (right).  lower register: South-West ‘canopy’ (left); North-West roundel (right) – the last depicting the Black Sea(?) and the overseeing ‘Angel of the Rose’.

four canopies fol86v

At much the same time that Eusebius and Cassiodorus expanded on the theme of the tabernaculum, we have the extraordinary Gregory the Great (expounder of the astronomical imagery in the Book of Job) dilating on the same theme, but showing now how the resident within might be at once protector of the ‘good seed’ and supervisor of mass slaughter as “sacrifice”.  This does seem to me a closer mindset to that imagery from the Chanson d’Aspremont.

Note: On Gregory the Great and tabernacula, see Flora Spiegel’s excellent paper, ‘The tabernacula of Gregory the Great’ in Volume 36 (2008) of Malcolm Godden, Simon Keynes (eds.), Anglo Saxon England.  Spiegel notes the importance of two more Biblical passages: Deuteronomy 16:13-16 and 31:10.

To see how just how unusual a conical tent is in the context of the Latin medieval west, one need only survey imagery in other surviving manuscripts. The following panorama shows the most common types, while the next illustration (from Cresques’ worldmap in the Atlas Catala) shows Bedu or ‘Moorish’ tents in the fourteenth century.

archit tents medieval panorama

cresques moorish tents

By the way, Cresques had some fairly technical astronomical lore at his fingertips too. His mounted figure in that detail (above) alludes to Perseus on his ‘unbridled’ steed, al Kumait, gripping the whip of the Pleiades as some versions had it. ‘Heaven-and-earth’ correspondences are perfectly natural for the older ways of navigation and mapping, a habit lost and the two formerly complementary disciplines divorced as quick-and-dirty aids such as the sextant became prevalent.

Though associated with Jews, the teepee-like structure drawn by Niccolo dell’Abbate (here) seems to be a product of his sixteenth-century imagination or perhaps of some report about the Americas and their supposedly containing descendants of Israel’s lost tribes. dell’Abbate lived from 1509/1512 until 1571.

Much better informed, naturally enough, is the late fourteenth century Jewish manuscript below. Thought made in Bologna or Rimini and dated to 1375 (roughly the same time as the Atlas Catala).  (Brit.Lib. MS Or 5024, folio 70v).

Sukkot composite

So it looks as though the Jewish festival booth, the sukkah is not the inspiration for those spread ‘canopies’ in folio 86v. While we’re here, though, you’ll see that pictured below it is a figure holding the Lulav, borne throughout the days of Sukkot, though he is holding  one element of it – the etrog – in his hand.  As I’ve explained in more detail  elsewhere, I think folio 19r in MS Beinecke 408 also shows a version of the Lulav. When I first wrote about it, and even when republishing thepost, I was troubled by the colour of the flower, but I do not think it so  problematic now.  The centre is not coloured and most citrus flowers, including the etrog’s,  have a blue-to-purplish exterior, so the colour is reasonable enough, given that anything closer to the purple-to-black range would never be shown so in the Vms.

Lulav compar

etrog flower

Flowers of the etrog, or citron medica. I think the flower pictured in the Vms (fol. 19r) is a substitute for the etrog;  possibly s citron- scented day-lily which is native to the western Ghats.

Jews living where the etrog would not grow must surely have substituted another lemon-like fruit or lemon-scented flower in their lulav.  I’ve so far found no record of how more distant Jewish communities dealt with the matter and any help from readers on this point would be much appreciated.

Back to tabernaculum etc. for a moment.

Medieval manuscripts from England to Armenia show imagery in which a parallel reference is maintained to the tabernaclum as both tent and portable shrine.   Here’s a three-dimensional example from the twelfth century. A Christian object.  From Cologne.

Such forms did not originate in Europe; a reliquary made a thousand years before, in what is now Afghanistan, is so strongly reminiscent of early Anglo-Norman works that one blinks to recognise here a Buddhist work.

container casket Bimaran Begram

Here’s the Brit. Mus. description of it.  Please pay no attention to captions on images of the object which refer to it ‘Scythian treasure’. The object was found in northern Afghanistan (as it now is), in the old Gandharan region, near Jalalabad, in Stupa no. 2. It is associated with the ‘Scythian treasure’ from Kul Oba chiefly by the perfection of its technique.


New Year appeal

Dear Linguists and Cryptographers etc.

You don’t suppose that by any chance that the language of MS Beinecke 408 could be Malayalam? It would be most convenient for me if it were.


Finally, apropos of nothing much, or just because it’s New Year, her is something nice to look at.

container script begram Gandharan period


4 thoughts on “… and narrow compass [edited and corrected]

  1. Diane, when it comes to linguists and cryptologists is your sarcasm is justified. However, your watching a folio illustrations of flowers and herbs is a little ridiculous. “The pot calling the kettle black”. After what the author Manuscript asked himself so much effort and expose himself to such an expensive book if it would be just plain herbarium? OK. if it is just plain herbarium, why have you for so many years, and many other researchers are engaged in such a trivial topic?
    What do you think about folio 86v, which I interpreted as a map of the world? http://gloriaolivae.pl/


    • Greg,
      Is there something in my post which you hear as a negative comment on linguists and cryptologists? Not my mention of Malayalam, I hope; perfectly serious. But if you’ve read my detailed analysis of folio 86v (or any part of it, because I’ve been explaining it as a map of the makers’ world for about three years or so now), then you’ll appreciate how nice it is to have company.


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