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Medieval Studies Workshop: Antonio Lenzo and Lauren Mancia



Antonio Lenzo (English), Lauren Mancia (Brooklyn College)


Wednesday, April 21, 2021 - 4:00pm - 6:00pm






Medieval Studies Workshop: Antonio Lenzo and Lauren Mancia

One of the most awful medieval representations of the Hellmouth is found on f. 39r of British Library, Cotton MS Nero C IV, the so-called Winchester Psalter, likely produced for the circle of Henry of Blois in late twelfth-century Winchester. With the possible exception of pandects, psalters are the codices that may be most obviously associated with an all-encompassing understanding of time, embracing the entirety of the liturgical year and of history itself, from Genesis to the end-times.
The Winchester Psalter is no exception, but it privileges the latter, showing a definite concern with the eschatology. Its extensive prefatory cycle, itself not necessarily unique – comparisons might be made with the Saint Albans or Tiberius Psalters, similarly composed –, is in fact unparalleled in its emphasis on the end of days, to which it dedicates an entire section of nine full-page miniatures, culminating in its celebrated Hellmouth. The whole illumination cycle leads to it.
The implications for worship and penance emerging from such an awe-inspiring representation of Hell at Judgment are clear, as the manuscript viewer is presented with the concrete threat of eternal infernal lockdown; the same anxiety, in the form of desire, is to be recognized in the petitionary nature of several of the prayers constituting the concluding section of the manuscript.
Nonetheless, it is also certainly the case that the visual language of lust and promiscuity characterizing the Hellmouth illumination is deployed complementarily with a more explicitly textual language of penance and petition: neatly separating the two is not possible, as will be seen, nor can one be fully reduced to a sublimation of the other. Engaging with the ambivalences of the Winchester Psalter will help uncovering of the less easily expressed experiential aspects of worship. Rather than the brainy concern of caricature Scholastics, eschatology in the Winchester Psalter appears therefore to be first and foremost a matter of feeling.