A Psalter is a Christian book used for private contemplation and devotion. It contains the biblical book of Psalms, or excerpts from it, along with other related material such as prayers, liturgical calendars, saints lives, and music. The book of Psalms is religious poetry written by King David of Israel (cs. 1000 BCE), and it was one of the most popular biblical texts in the middle ages.

Medieval Psalters were generally owned by the wealthy, and many are luxury works of art, richly illustrated and decorated by master artists. They frequently show a lavish use of gold and expensive pigments. The manuscripts were usually small for portability; some were tiny, meant to be carried on a belt or in a pocket.

Psalter images are often surprising for a religious text, and mostly do not illustrate the text they accompany. Animal imagery is common, with scenes from the bestiary, Reynard the Fox and other fables, and scenes of daily life. Illustrations of biblical stories do appear, but not with the frequency that might be expected. Psalters are frequently illustrated with hybrid creatures, odd and often whimsical combinations of two or more animals, sometimes with human faces or human bodies with animal heads or body parts. Serpents and other dragon-like beasts are used as decorative elements, winding around borders and forming initial letters. The beasts often interact with each other or with other decorative elements on the page.

The bottom margin of the manuscript page was used for more extensive illustrations, such as scenes from the bestiary. One manuscripts, the Queen Mary Psalter, has a more or less complete bestiary in pictures in the bottom margin.

Sailors building a fire on a whale

For a list of some Psalters, see the Manuscripts tab above.