The Luttrell Psalter Film Clothing: Part 1

We took the decision early on in the process of making the film, and in consultation with The Collection (the museum in Lincoln for whom the film was made), to reproduce recognisable images from the Psalter rather than to reinterpret them. The museum wanted the people from the Psalter images to ‘walk off the page’. We too felt that any deviation from the images was to move away from the primary source and so we worked hard to recreate the world that Sir Geoffrey created for posterity, rather than to reimagine it as we think it should have been.

The Vexed Question of Colour – would a swineherd really have worn purple?

We were aware that the illustrator was working with a painter’s palette, not a dyer’s one, and would have had a different range of colours available to him – he was also creating a decorative work. With this as a consideration, we strove hard to find textiles in colours that looked believable and achievable for the period, but matched the images. We also had a very small budget. We resorted to dyeing the fabrics ourselves or dipping them in a weak solution of potassium permanganate to dull the modern dye colours down. However, we did not break down the clothing to make them look worn and grubby as this would be reinterpreting the images.

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Historic Background

The period over which the Psalter was created – 1325-1340 (approx.) – was a period during which the cut of clothing began to change. Since textiles were first created, clothing was made by first tying, then pinning, then sewing rectangles of fabric together. Textiles are a product of farming – from the fibres (linen/flax – wool/sheep) to the plants needed for dyeing them.  A complete farming year goes into the production of the raw material, this then need to be harvested, cleaned/prepared, spun into yarn and woven into cloth. So you can appreciate that the value of textiles was such that, when they were cut to form a garment, they were cut without waste. This was achieved by using simple geometric shapes – rectangles, triangles and squares ingeniously pieced to create fit and fullness. However, a radical change in the cut of dress in this period is happening around this time. It begins with the armhole; instead of creating sleeves t-shirt wise, they begin to fit the sleeve closer to the arm and into a shaped armhole. This frees the arm movement and allows the arm to be raised without the garment pulling up. As a result, garments could then be tailored to fit the figure without restricting movement.

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Above: One of the women from the film, her gown is loose fitting, but their sleeves fit quite close to the arm.

As we studied the Psalter images we could see that many of the garments had tight sleeves, but were otherwise loose fitting – however no seams were shown. So we looked at archaeological evidence, tomb monuments (which do often show seams) and trial tested garments comparing them with the Psalter images for the correct fit and drape. As a result we decided that Psalter clothing shows a variety of cuts from simple rectangles to fully fitted, but that most of the villagers were  gowns showing shows a transitional cut – with fitted sleeves into a simply shaped armhole, but with the remainder of the garment formed from the rectangles and gores with some limited shaping.

Higher Status Clothing
No means of fastening is shown on any of the women’s gowns, and indeed most clearly simply slip over the head. However, the dress worn by the lady spinning (below) with the great wheel is an exception. Her gown is fitted so closely to her figure that it must include sophisticated tailoring and must be laced closed to achieve such a tight fit.

women_spinning

The spinner is also the highest status figure that we included in the film. Apart from her dress being finely tailored (which is very wasteful of fabric), she has an excess of fabric about the hem of her dress which pools on the floor about her feet. Her fine white linen apron also has the most detailed stitching of all the aprons shown in the Psalter (there are five in all with four different designs). An immaculately fitted garment such as this, would probably have been made for the individual (rather than by her) and fitted to her figure.

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Above: The spinner from the film.
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The Pottery

We asked Andrew MacDonald (below) of the Pot Shop, Lincoln, to create the replica medieval pottery used in the Luttrell Psalter Film. Andrew is a specialist potter who creates Prehistoric, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, Post medieval and Maiolica pots as well as his own designs.

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There are a number of green-glazed and un-glazed pots included in the Luttrell Psalter illustrations. Using these images, fragments of pottery that we had found on the deserted medieval village site and other known finds from Lincolnshire, Andrew recreated the pots we required to recreate some of the iconic images from the Psalter.

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One of the pot sherds, from the site of the deserted medieval village provided inspiration for one of the pots used in the film (sherd and completed pot pictured below):

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Andrew MacDonald’s The Pot Shop (brick building pictured below), can be found just off Steep Hill, at Harding House, Christ’s Hospital Terrace, Lincoln. 01522 528994

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Making the Medieval Pottery Part One

Specialist potter Andrew MacDonald recreates some medieval pottery as seen in the Luttrell Psalter. Part one: throwing.

Making the Medieval Pottery Part Two

 

Part two: Adding handles, glazing and firing
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Archaeology

As part of our preparation for the making of the Luttrell Psalter Film, Washingborough Archaeology Group (WAG) organised an archaeology field walk of a Lincolnshire lost medieval village.  Finds from this exercise were used to give additional information to the potter who was recreate some of the green-glazed ware seen on the pages of the Psalter. Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the short film made of the field walk.

WAG and Team gather

The field walk was led by archaeologist Jo Hambly and supported by fellow archaeologist (and Luttrell Psalter ploughman) Neil Parker (pictured below).

Neil Parker

WAG Screen recorded the process. Below: Nick Loven with video camera, Chris Roberts on sound and Jo Turner taking photographs.

Filming the finds

WAG Screen undergraduate work placement student, Jamie Rae-Smith, also followed the action with a camera and interviewed members of WAG Screen. Below: Jamie interviewing Chris Roberts.

Interview

Below: The lost village location

Lost village site

Below: The coloured flags mark the location of each find, which has been carefully bagged and given a unique code. Neil recorded the exact location of each fragment.

Middle Carlton Field Walk 003

The fragments of pottery that we found helped us in the recreation of the pottery used in the film. The large water jug carried by one of the women in the film was based on the Luttrell Psalter illumination and known archaeological finds from Lincolnshire. The jug handle found in the field (one which is commonly found by WAG) was used for the detail of the handle. We also found a beautiful fragment of a decorated pot, and this was recreated to help furnish our cottage interior (of which more later). See the short WAG Screen film below for some of the finds we made.

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Finding the locations, the specialists and the skills.

In the making of The Luttrell Psalter Film, the key questions were how much of each illustration could we take at face value; how much should we attribute to artistic licence or to allegorical meanings too complex to be fully understood today; are the Luttrell Psalter images of everyday life a true reflection of village life in the first quarter of the 14th century?

Spinner and carder

Yes, certainly the images have many meanings within the context of the book, but we decided to take all the illustrations literally and to test them out so far as we could within our means.

So, rather than cast actors for the roles of the Luttrell villagers, we were looked for people with specific skills – people who really could spin with the medieval walking wheel, use a sling shot or play two pipes at once!

We also needed to find the specialists who could make the replica pottery, an exact copy of the Luttrell Psalter plough, and even replicate a page from the Psalter itself.

For the locations, we wanted to replicate not only the landscape, but also the very geology – we would not have been happy filming in reconstructed medieval houses in any other stone that the local Lincolnshire creamy-grey limestone!

Through this process we learned so much more than could be expressed by the film alone. This blog is a chance to share some of those discoveries and experiences.

Coming next, an archaeological field walk of the lost medieval village of Middle Carlton.

The clod-breakers!

We also discovered that the modern sense of humour is somewhat similar!
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Talking to the experts

The Luttrell Psalter is rich with images of everyday village life in the 14th century. In a series of detailed illustrations significant events of the medieval agricultural year, from sowing to harvesting, including the odd domestic incident on the way, are all portrayed. Our aim was to do on film what the original artist achieved on vellum through a keen observation of people and nature, an infinite attention to detail and a sense of humour (note how the crow tucks into the grain from the sack in behind the sower’s back)! However, we needed to consult many specialists before we could to bring these images to life.

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We took the Luttrell Psalter to farmers, shepherds, rare breed specialists, agricultural historians, wind and water millers, apiarists and fishermen. We consulted archaeologists, medieval historians, Luttrell Psalter historians and specialist potters. We spoke to people about horse breeds and horse harnesses. We studied the dress of the period and consulted spinners, weavers and dyers. We studied the images of plants, animals and insects in the Psalter and looked at the flora and fauna of medieval England, comparing it to today’s habitat. We talked to re-enactors who have practical experience of medieval lifestyles. We also spent many happy hours pouring over the pages with medieval musical instrument and music specialists.

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We visited museums and travelled to many places to in our researches (and not just via the internet).  We visited Kentwell Hall, the Weald and Downland Museum, Laxton, Formby, South Wales and many more places. More on many of these points later.

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Irnham in Lincolnshire

November 2006

The Luttrell Psalter is named after its patron Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, Lord of the Manor at Irnham,  in Lincolnshire.  It is thought quite possible that some of the Luttrell Psalter illustrations were about and created upon his manor at Irnham.

Irnham, Lincolnshire

We visited Irnham in November 2006 to have a look at the modern village and its landscape. The village nestles in gently rolling fields, and the houses are all built from the local limestone, which probably reflected the material used in medieval Irnham too. The rolling landscape and use of stone for building was something we wanted to replicate in our re-created Luttrell village.

We were aided in our research by Charles Leggatt, Irnham’s church warden, who organised a guided tour of the village with himself and Tom Bagge, a local historian and fellow church warden. Below: Tom Bagge talking to Pauline Loven with Steve Turner looking on – Charles Leggatt has his back to the camera.

Irnham, Lincolnshire

Obviously, we couldn’t film within the modern village of Irnham, but Nick Loven (below with camera) filmed the village and its environs for reference.

Irnham, Lincolnshire

WAG Screen crew from left: Jo Turner, Pauline Loven, Steve Turner, Nick Loven, Chris Roberts with Tom Bagge and, hidden just behind, Charles Leggatt.

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The Luttrell Psalter Film Patrons

We selected our patrons, Michelle Brown and Terry Jones, with great care.

Michelle Brown is a professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies and a specialist in the Luttrell Psalter itself. Michelle has been very supportive of our project and very generous with her time and expertise. Terry Jones has been very active in popularising medieval history and was happy to lend support our project by adding his name as a patron.  Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown, FSA, was for many years the Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library, where she remains as a part-time project officer. She is also Professor of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.
Michelle has curated several major exhibitions, including ‘Painted Labyrinth: the World of the Lindisfarne Gospels’ (British Library, 2003) and ‘In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000’ (Smithsonian Inst., Washington DC, 2006-7).  She has lectured, published and broadcast widely on medieval manuscripts, history and Chrisitian culture, catering for a wide range of audiences. Her books include:
The Luttrell Psalter
The World of the Luttrell Psalter
The Book of Cerne: Prayer, Patronage and Power in Ninth-Century England
The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe
The Holkham Bible Picture Book
Manuscripts from the Anglo-Saxon Age
Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts
Pagans and Priests: the Coming of Christianity to Britain and Ireland

Terry

Terry Jones
“My interest in history has always been ‘What was it like for ordinary people?’, I’m more interested in understanding how life was in the past – rather than the big events. The Luttrell Psalter provides this rare evidence of ordinary life through a series of wonderful and vibrant illustrations from the agricultural to the domestic. These images are being brought to life for the first time on film and the production team deserve a great deal of credit for tackling this project. The similarities between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ have always interested me more than the differences. Those are the things that bring the past to life for me and the Luttrell Psalter Film will do that for its audience too.”

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