5.St. Elizabeth’s Psalter

One of first de luxe Psalters manufactured for the high lay aristocracy in a German milieu, most likely in the monastery of Reinhardsbrunn, around the years 1201-1208, under the patronage of Herman I, landgrave of Thuringia, and his second wife, Sophia of Wittelsbach, the codex consignee.

The extraordinary manufacture of this codex, committed for the decorated part to some professional illuminators, reflects the high cultural level of the court of Thuringia and the deep religiosity of the codex patrons. The books passed by Sophia to her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth [Elisabetta], perhaps on the occasion of the marriage with her son, Louis IV. Maybe Elizabeth [Elisabetta] herself, according to quite a late notice written on the first pages of the manuscript (f. 2r), or more likely, her uncle, Berthold of Andechs [Bertoldo di Andechs], patriarch of Aquileia (1218-1251), are to be assumed as the Psalter’s donors to the chapter of Cividale. In the same patriarch’s family milieu and, above all in Bamberg – where his brother Egbert [Egberto] sat on the Episcopal cathedra – are to be located some initiatives and works that as early as the twelfth century reveal interest for manufacturing of art products and, particularly for illuminated manuscripts. The Psalter puts together the texts that characterise this typology of books: calendar, Psalms, biblical chants, Athanasian creed, Office of the Dead and litany of the Saints. Such parts are fitted out with a very rich decoration, not only ornamented – all text sections are indeed marked by the initials –, but mostly figurative. In connection with the calendar’s months there are shown hagiographic and christological representations (ff. 1v-7r). Then follows a figure proem, that is to say a series of six miniatures set in opposite pairs, which are independent from the text of the Psalms, that illustrate in twelve scenes the life of Christ, from his Nativity to Pentecost (ff. 8v-9r, 10v-11r, 12v-13r); that makes up a precocious, wholly developed and thematically coherent, example of this manner: a more western-like illumination typology of Psalter, of English and French origins. There follows the illumination of the Psalms (ff. 14v-149r), of the biblical chants (ff. 149v-160r), of the Office of the Dead (ff. 160v-164v), of the Athanasian creed (ff. 165r-167r) and of the litany of the Saints (ff. 167v-171r). The decoration of these sections is unusually rich, as it is the choice of many figure subjects. The manuscript is illuminated according the new characteristic forms of the Zackenstil, or zigzag style, which can be seen in the Empire at the beginning of the thirteenth century: a style characterized by the broken-line progression of folds and draperies which can be considered as the result of the union of a new Gothic sensibility with the previous Byzantine components of the Romanesque arts.

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