This thirteenth-century Psalter with Canticles and Prayers is the work of a single anonymous scribe and, as usual, one or more unnamed artists, who possibly worked in a provincial monastic scriptorium. It contains twenty-one miniatures, seven of which are full-page, placed before and within the text of the Psalms and immediately before the first Ode. The psalter held a prominent place in the Byzantine liturgy, and miniatures were frequently included in more opulent copies to accompany the 151 Psalms of King David and a series of Canticles or Odes (Psalm-like songs), excerpted from other books of the Bible.
Each Psalm also begins with an ornamental initial. The frontispiece of the “King David with Five Musicians” (fol. 1v), shows the bearded David in the guise of a Byzantine emperor, gesturing and holding a book, and with a nimbus surrounding his head. The musicians are playing the cymbals, a lute, a square harp, a long horn, and a drum.
The manuscript may be seen as a reflection of the revival of the tradition of manuscript illumination and the other visual arts following the defeat of the Latin Empire and restoration in 1261 of Byzantine sovereignty upon the entry of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (reigned 1259–82) into Constantinople. --From description by Robert Rainwater, former Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Chief Librarian of Art, Prints and Photographs, and Curator of the Spencer Collection, for exhibition, Faith and Legacy: The Hellenic World from the Collections of The New York Public Library, December 3, 2004-April 3, 2005