Maestro del Messale Barbo (Northern Italy, Lombardy and the Veneto)
Leaf from a Choir Psalter:
Initial B: King David in Prayer, about 1460-70
Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum
The Jeanne Miles Blackburn Collection [Cat. no. 77]
Psalters contained all 150 biblical psalms. Specific pages within the psalter were decorated with historiated initials to highlight the liturgical divisions. In addition to providing embellishment, such initials served as a visual aid to the user to assist in locating a text. The most prominent of these was Psalm 1, which begins Beatus vir qui non abiit in consilio impiorum (Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly), and which traditionally featured the grandest initial of all. An enlarged "B" was customarily filled with a scene representing King David, the author of the Psalms. Here David kneels in prayer within a bright green landscape of craggy rocks and trees. Above, God the Father, with orb in hand, looks down from heaven as he blesses David with his right hand.
The author of the initial is named after a missal he illuminated for Marco Barbo, Bishop of Treviso from 1455 to 1464 (now in Padua). He worked mainly in Lombardy and the Veneto during the 1450s and 1460s, and manuscripts illuminated by him are known to have been destined for patrons in Brescia and Padua.