Initial S: A Griffin and Rider

Unknownabout 1240–1250

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

Playfully inventive, the artist transformed the opening letter S of Psalm 68 into a pink griffin. This dragonlike creature captures in its fearsome jaw a winged beast, which in turn bites the top of the griffin's snout. The young man struggling on the griffin's back twists as much as the letter itself, his actions emphasized by his billowing drapery. Within the tendrils of the vine scrolls that encircle the S,various objects--small animals, a small griffin, a doglike creature, and two heads attached to vines rather than to bodies--contribute to the sense of conflict.

This struggle of intertwining forms introduces the cry for help in the psalm's opening line at the bottom of the page: Salv[u]m me fac Deus q[uonia]m intraverunt aqu[a]e usq[ue] ad animam meam (Save me, oh God, for the waters come in unto my soul).

In Christian liturgical practice, the psalms are repeated on a weekly basis according to a set program, the liturgy of the Divine Office. Illuminated psalters facilitated this recitation by signaling each of the eight major textual divisions with large initials. The large initial S marks one of those eight textual divisions in this psalter.


  • Title: Initial S: A Griffin and Rider
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: about 1240–1250
  • Location Created: Würzburg, Germany
  • Physical Dimensions: Leaf: 22.7 × 15.7 cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/16 in.)
  • Type: Folio
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Tempera colors, gold leaf, and silver leaf on parchment
  • Terms of Use: Open Content
  • Number: 83.MK.93.76
  • Culture: German
  • Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig VIII 2, fol. 76
  • Creator Display Name: Unknown
  • Classification: Manuscripts (Documents)

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