Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

Katharinenthal Abbey (Switzerland) — 1312

Magnificent miniatures on a golden background: one of the most beautiful Gothic manuscripts was used as a large choir book until the 19th century

  1. This preeminent document of medieval liturgy comes from the Swiss St. Katharinenthal monastery

  2. It is one of the finest works of Gothic art from the area of Lake Constance with 71 splendid miniatures

  3. The large size makes it visual from far away and the gradual continued to be in use until the 19th century

Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

The Gradual of St. Katherinenthal is a collections of church hymns, which were recited by the Gregorian choir during mass in the 14th century. The sheet music is embellished with brightly colored pictures backed with the finest gold leaf and make the work a top-class performance of Gothic book art.

The Gradual of the St. Katharinenthal Monestary

One of the most preeminent documents of medieval liturgy comes from the St. Katharinenthal monastery in Switzerland, this being the gradual that was composed by the most talented scribes and illuminators of the monastery. A gradual is a collection of Latin hymns that were recited in the 14th century by the Dominican orders and Gregorian choirs in the ceremonial liturgies of the church calendar. The work, which has a very large format of 48 x 35 centimeters, contains 628 pages of sheet music and Latin lyrics. The unusual size is meant to allow all the singers of the choir, even those standing father away, to easily read the pages. The book opens with two pages that contain calendric information. The following pages contain musical scores in the Gregorian four line system, that each incorporate staves and lines of text. The outstandingly expensive decoration of the book consists of 71 elaborately designed miniatures with gold decoration, 13 magnificent flowers painted to form letters, and a considerable amount of calligraphy.

A Masterpiece of Spirituality

The origin of the Gradual of the St. Katharinenthal and its time of creation, circa 1312, is recorded in handwriting on the inside of the front cover. At least six artists were involved in the creation of the work, nevertheless their names were not recorded here. The refinement of the textual composition and the technical perfection of the paintings imply that there were two unbelievably talented masters, who created, with the support of their no less talented monastic brothers, a top-rate performance and perhaps the greatest achievement of Gothic book art from the area of Lake Constance.

A Globally-Coveted Precious Book

After its completion, the gradual remained in the monastery until the 19th century, where it was used by the monastic choir in Messen. Around 1820, it became the property of a Swiss antiquarian by unknown means, who displayed the book in his museum and separated both of its costliest and most prized miniatures from the work. Both pages exist today, they have however been disassembled and are to be found in the collections of various institutions and private persons. In 1958, the gradual emerged in the estate of the English art collector Sir Charles Perrins, and was auctioned. The Swiss Federal Council reacquired the work in this auction, which was only possible though the financial support of the Gottfried-Keller Foundation and the Canton of Thurgau. Since December 9, 1985, this precious book is once again to be found Switzerland.

An Artistic Feat

The inestimably valuable gradual gained its exceptional fame because of the richness of its illustrations. The 71 miniatures are eminently fine and drawn in brilliant colors. Nearly every one of the illustrations was decorated with gold leaf, begetting the lofty character of the work. With the composition of the paintings, the artists have reflected on the formally quintessential and important biblical events and depicted them in serene clarity. The monumental initials and the countless calligraphic elements are the artistic trademarks of its masters. All in all, the Gradual of St. Katharinenthal is a masterly performance of European Gothic.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Graduale von St. Katharinenthal
Size / Format
628 pages / 48.0 × 35.0 cm
Date
1312
Style
Language
Illustrations
71 delicately painted miniatures, rich in gold decoration, and 13 ornate initials
Previous Owners
Sir Charles Dyson Perrins (1864–1958)

Available facsimile editions:
Gradual of St. Katharinenthal – LM 26117 – Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Zürich, Switzerland) / Museum des Kantons Thurgau, Frauenfeld
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1983
Limited Edition: 930 copies
Detail Picture

Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

“E“ Initial

This marvelous “E” initial features a burnished gold background and is itself wonderfully patterned with dark red on the outside and pink on the inside. It is divided into two registers with the upper scene depicting a mass. Crowned ladies can be seen kneeling in front of the rest of the laity as they receive a blessing from a bishop. To the right, we can see four-line staves in red ink and neume notation in black ink created according to the Gregorian style.

Graduale von St. Katharinenthal
Single Page

Gradual of St. Katharinenthal

Beheading of John the Baptist / Birth of Mary

These masterful miniatures are presented in large historiated initials. The upper scene portrays the beheading of John the Baptist, while the lower scene presents the birth of the Virgin Mary. Both are backed by burnished gold, brightly colored, and contained within patterned letters – “M” and “C” respectively.

The upper miniature shows the moment of John’s martyrdom: the executioner is on his tip toes, his sword dripping with blood, but the hand of God simultaneously reaches down to bless him, and the presentation of his head is shown to the right. The lower miniature is distinguished by its detail, e.g. the letter is not only decorated with an intricate red and blue pattern, but its tips grow into leaves of yellow, green, and red.

Graduale von St. Katharinenthal
Facsimile Editions

#1 Graduale von St. Katharinenthal

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1983
Gradual of St. Katharinenthal – LM 26117 – Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Zürich, Switzerland) / Museum des Kantons Thurgau, Frauenfeld
Gradual of St. Katharinenthal – LM 26117 – Schweizerisches Landesmuseum (Zürich, Switzerland) / Museum des Kantons Thurgau, Frauenfeld Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1983
Limited Edition: 930 copies
Binding: Genuine nappa leather with corner fittings, a center rosette and two clasps on three genuine frets. All leaves are trimmed in accordance with the original and hand-bound on cords.
Commentary: 1 volume by Albert Knoepfli, Ellen J. Beer, Max Lütolf, Pascal Ladner, Dietrich W.H. Schwarz, Lucas Wüthrich, and Alfred A. Schmid
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.
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