Wavy Stars in Medieval Art
The Luttrell Psalter is full of imaginative marginalia. Nevertheless, the simple image below remains one of my favourites and is one which I really enjoyed painting. I’m not at all sure about the purpose of the ‘golf clubs’ the shepherds are holding, or why the man in blue is wearing such impressive gloves, but I do love the message, the facial expressions and, of course, the wavy star.
‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born for you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’. Luke 20: 8-12. NIV.
We don’t draw stars like that any more. A quick image search bought up pages of stars that look like this –
– defiantly straight sided.
So I wondered whether wavy stars were typical of the fourteenth century when the Psalter was made – which brings me to a trip to…
My lovely husband and I decided to visit York prompted, at least in part, by a television programme called Britain’s Most Fragile Treasure about the restoration of the Great East Window of York Minster.
After coffee at the National Railway Museum
and a wander up ‘The Shambles’, York’s most characterful shopping street
we arrived at York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe.
York’s Great East Window was made between 1404-8 , just fifty years after the death of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, commissioner of the Luttrell Psalter, and is the single largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain. Visitors expecting to see the window in all its glory will be disappointed for the next few years as all the 300 individual panels have been removed for conservation and there is a print of the window hung in place of real glass.
However, in that rather futuristic dome you can see in the photo above, the Minster have placed actual panes of conserved glass, back lit so they can be seen in all their glory at eye level. And glorious they are.
A number of touch screens are also available so that it is possible to look at digital photographs of individual panes of glass. And it was here that I found more stars in one of the ‘creation’ panes – wavy, it seems, was the way to go in our small part of the medieval world.
The Minster itself is a truly impressive piece of architecture and well worth a visit at any time, but if you’d like to appreciate the workmanship in this fantastic medieval glass, make your way to York before it is all replaced high in the Great East Window and you need binoculars to see it….