Golden Psalter of St. Gall

Golden Psalter of St. Gall – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Cod. Sang. 22 – Abbey Library of St. Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)

Francia (Soissons?) and the St. Gall Monastery — Ca. 870–900

A psalterium aureum from the Carolingian period for the famous monastery of St. Gall: probably created in the circle of King Louis the German, written almost entirely in gold and decorated with purple scenes from the life of King David.

  1. Possibly originated in the circle of the East Frankish king and grandson of Charlemagne Louis of Germany

  2. The magnificent codex was begun in Soissons and completed in St. Gall at the end of the 9th century

  3. The Old Testament psalm texts were almost entirely executed in gold ink

Golden Psalter of St. Gall

Cod. Sang. 22 Abbey Library of St. Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Golden Psalter of St. Gall

This Psalterium aureum is a late Carolingian masterpiece of extraordinary splendor. Begun in Soissons in the circle of Louis of Germany, the codex was completed and elaborately illuminated in the famous scriptorium of St. Gall at the end of the 9th century. While the psalms shine almost entirely in gold, the expressive miniatures attract the eye by means of luminous colors such as purple and minium. The Old Testament scenes also give us a glimpse of the early medieval world in the East Frankish Empire. The manuscript's good state of preservation is also exceptional since it has never been departed from its place of origin and is still kept today in the Abbey Library of St. Gall.

Golden Splendor From More Than 1100 Years Ago

The work on the Golden Psalter of St. Gall probably began in a scriptorium in Soissons – possibly in the circle of the East Frankish king and grandson of Charlemagne Louis of Germany (c. 806–876). Who exactly commissioned this luxurious manuscript is unfortunately not known, especially since it was not completed during this first work phase. The unbound folios arrived around 870/80 at the monastery of St. Gall, which was one of the most influential and important scriptoria in Europe between the 9th and 11th centuries and thus a cultural center of the time. There the manuscript was revised, completed and illuminated in two further work phases (883–888 and between 890 and 900).

A "Psalterium aureum" from St. Gall

It is not without reason that the codex is also called a Psalterium aureum: The Old Testament psalm texts shine entirely in golden Carolingian minuscules, while the tituli were executed in a more monumental-looking Capitalis Rustica of gold or minium. Although the text was initially written in brass ink at Soissons, probably for reasons of cost, this was mostly used to imitate the effect of gold ink. Later, these parts of the text were traced with real gold ink by the St. Gall illuminators, and the missing psalms were also added in gold. This peculiarity gave the golden letters a character all their own, making them appear more yellowish in some places and more greenish in others. The patina, which is more than 1000 years old, contributes to this. This chrysographic masterpiece is completed by numerous large and medium-sized initials made of golden letter bodies decorated with interlace and vegetal ornaments.

Old Testament figures in Carolingian dress

The 17 miniatures, nine of which take up an entire page, were also added in St. Gall. The protagonist of the mostly narrative images is King David, who was not only known as the king of the Israelites and the conqueror of Goliath, but was also attributed the authorship of the Psalms in the Middle Ages. Thus, most of the illuminations depict scenes from David's life. The elaborate late Carolingian painting is characterized both by reminiscences of antiquity and by two-dimensional figures with strong facial expressions and gestures and a vivid color palette dominated by purple, minium, green, and gold. Many of the Old Testament figures are also striking for their Frankish garb, which places them in the time of the Psalter's creation, giving us today a captivating glimpse into the world of the Carolingian early Middle Ages.

A golden treasure of the Abbey Library of St. Gall

With this beyond splendid decoration, the liturgical book probably did not serve for the monks' everyday prayers, but was rather used on high feast days in St. Gall and most likely also displayed for distinguished visitors. Today, after centuries of use, the valuable and exceptionally well-preserved manuscript is still at the place of its creation, in the Abbey on the Steinach, and is now kept in a protective safe as one of the most magnificent treasures in the collection of the Abbey Library.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen
Psalterium aureum
Size / Format
344 pages / 37.0 × 28.0 cm
Date
Ca. 870–900
Language
Script
Carolingian minuscule Rustic capitals
Illustrations
17 splendid miniatures, numerous large decorated initials, golden script
Content
Book of Psalms
Patron
Presumably from the circle of Louis the German

Available facsimile editions:
Golden Psalter of St. Gall – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Cod. Sang. 22 – Abbey Library of St. Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)
Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Luzern, 2024
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Detail Picture

Golden Psalter of St. Gall

King David in the House of his Wife Michal

Michal was the youngest daughter of King Saul and the first wife of David. She fell in love with him shortly after his victory over Goliath, which her father disapproved of because he saw him as a competitor. Saul initially agreed to the marriage anyway, only to arrange for David to be killed – which did not succeed. After Saul again nearly murdered David with a spear, he fled to the house of his wife, who first gave him shelter and then helped him escape when soldiers searched their home. Remarkably, the miniature shows only the soldiers and David, hidden in the shrine-like house of Michal, whose role in the story is virtually negated in the image. The text passage surrounding the unframed miniature describes the scene and picks up on the luminous minium of the miniature – a skillfull intertwining of text and image.

Golden Psalter of St. Gall – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Cod. Sang. 22 – Abbey Library of St. Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)
Single Page

Golden Psalter of St. Gall

David as a Royal Singer

On this page, a round arch on two gorgeous columns provides a view of an exuberant scene: four symmetrically arranged dancers with clappers and veils dance to the melody intoned by the enthroned King David on his cithara. The light coloration and the golden outlines of the figures create an artful contrast to the purple background. The depiction of David as a royal singer with cithara developed into the standard repertoire of Psalter illumination in the early Middle Ages. This tradition was contributed to by this magnificent full-page miniature.

The term cithara was used in the Middle Ages to describe various lyre- and lute-like stringed instruments. The cithara depicted here, which David holds in his left hand, is reminiscent of an upturned lute with its small round sound box at the upper end and the long neck with three strings attached to it. Between his right thumb and forefinger he holds the corresponding plectrum, here a thin golden stick with an angled end.

Golden Psalter of St. Gall – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Cod. Sang. 22 – Abbey Library of St. Gall (St. Gall, Switzerland)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Goldene Psalter von St. Gallen

Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Luzern, 2024

Publisher: Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Luzern, 2024
Limited Edition: 480 copies
Binding: Faithfully to the original, the facsimile is bound in red leather with wooden covers, brass buttons and a brass clasp. The facsimile and commentary come in a handmade linen slipcase.
Commentary: 1 volume by David Ganz, Thomas Rainer, Ulrike Ganz, Ursula Kundert, and Philipp Lenz
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€
(1,000€ - 3,000€)
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