Queens’ MS 18
Gilbert of Poitiers (b. after 1085–1154), Commentary on the Psalms, Vols. 1 and 2
France, twelfth century
Although recognised in recent times principally as a scholastic logician, the considerable renown enjoyed by Gilbert of Poitiers in the Middle Ages as a biblical scholar is reflected in the survival of no less than fifty-one twelfth-century copies of his Psalm commentaries. Completed in around 1117, the discrete format in which the commentaries were presented came to reflect the process by which biblical study had moved from the monastery to the lecture room.
The Queens’ copy is particularly fine on account of its artwork, original binding, and as an example of how scholastic exegesis of scripture was conducted in the earlier twelfth century. We see this in the opening on display, the text and commentary of Psalm 116, ‘Laudate dominum omnes gentes’ (beginning on left). As one might expect, the finely illuminated letters signal the beginning of each psalm commentary (the elaborate figures are not, however, in any way representative of the psalms’ meaning). Words in red are psalm text, whilst those in black are Gilbert’s commentary (for a different approach see the Glossa Ordinaria (Queens’ MS 26), a bible commentary conceived at around the same time). Unique, however, to this work is the system of red marginal symbols (derived from Greek letters), appropriated and adapted by Gilbert to indicate thematic content of certain psalms (for example, the symbol between the two columns on the left indicates ‘The First Coming’). Other marginal signs act as references to the patristic sources upon which Gilbert based his commentary (rather like footnotes).
Queens’ MS 18 is particularly notable for the fact that it still retains its twelfth century binding, the covering of which is probably made of seal skin. Although undoubtedly of monastic origin, the earliest indications of provenance have been scratched out and thus cannot be read. Later inscriptions indicate that these volumes are two of eight given to Queens’ in the early 1630s by Francis Tyndall, seven of which date from the twelfth century. He matriculated as a Queens’ Fellow-commoner in 1631, and is thought to have been related to Humphrey Tyndall, President of Queens’, 1580–1614.