Mosa Psalter Fragment

Mosa Psalter Fragment Facsimile Edition

France or Germany — Mid-12th century

A masterpiece that, from today's perspective, has almost fortunately remained unfinished: the union of Classical, Carolingian, and Ottonian traditions in a magnificently decorated manuscript fragment

  1. A fusion of late-classical, Carolingian, and Ottonian traditions rendered in the style of modern comic strips

  2. The individual miniatures are set in three-dimensional red frames, which the figures frequently exceed

  3. The fact that the manuscript was unfinished makes it possible to examine manuscript production at that time

Mosa Psalter Fragment

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Mosa Psalter Fragment

Even though it is not a completed codex, the Mosa Psalter Fragment is nevertheless regarded as a highlight of Romanesque illumination. It is considered to be extremely important in terms of theology, iconography, and history of style. It is a fusion of late-classical, Carolingian, and Ottonian traditions, and in some case, the illustration even evokes the style of modern comic strips. The fact that the manuscript was unfinished, including nearly half of its 29 miniatures, makes it possible to get an inside look into manuscript production at that time, such as in what order miniatures were decorated with various paints and gold leaf. Researchers value the iconography of this psalter fragment very highly, as the miniatures present an iconographic wealth which is very unusual for this period.

Mosa Psalter Fragment

The Mosa Psalter Fragment is a sumptuous manuscript richly embellished with gold, which comprises an illustrated cycle with scenes from both the Old and the New Testaments. Experts consider this fragment to be the introduction to a psalter telling the story of the Bible in pictures. The individual miniatures are merely accompanied by brief thematic indications, so-called "tituli", as well as by some cartouches containing direct speech, recalling our modern comic strips. The magnificent illustrations were made by anonymous masters and are valued as highlights of Romanesque book illumination. The combination of different techniques – pen drawing and opaque color painting – enchants the beholder with its very special charm. The miniatures show landscapes and architecture applied in rich colors and glittering gold as well as lively moving figures that convey a realistic impression of the biblical narrative. This fragment of a Romanesque picture Bible cycle is extremely important in terms of theology, iconography, and history of style. Some compositional elements of the miniatures show late classical, paleo-Christian patterns of Italy as well as influences from the Carolingian and Ottonian traditions.

The Decorative Apparatus

Out of a total of 29 executed miniatures, 15 have been accomplished and 12 have been left unfinished. The two remaining pictures are pen drawings which are partially gilded, an impressive testimony as to how wonderful and of what fine expressive quality unfinished the pen drawings may also be. Moreover, they convey an impression of medieval book production, as the gold was not applied by hand or with a brush at the very end, but immediately after the pen drawing had been completed. The execution of such a comprehensive cycle obviously suggests the collaboration of several artists. However, in spite of the diverseness of techniques, despite the coloring which might have been added by various hands and the stylistic differences visible in some details, it may be assumed that one single master was in charge of artistic aspects, planned the overall design, and was essentially responsible for the execution of the work.

A Precious Fragment of a Picture Bible

Folios 1–6 of this fragment illustrate episodes of the Old Testament, whereas the remaining folios (7–10) depict Gospel scenes. The individual miniatures are set in three-dimensional red frames which the figures frequently exceed, thus lending them a special liveliness. Researchers value the iconography of this psalter fragment very highly, as the miniatures present an iconographic wealth which is very unusual for this period. The manuscript's further importance is expressed in terms of history of style, as it represents a truly prestigious example of late classical influences. The great majority of the pictures go back to Roman monuments of the 5th century. Only in a few cases is there a direct infiltration of purely Eastern, Palestinian-Syrian, or Byzantine traditions.


Alternative Titles
Das Mosaner Psalter-Fragment
Size / Format
20 pages / 24.9 × 15.6 cm
Mid-12th century
Every page is decorated with at least one miniature, 29 in total including 1 full-page miniature

Available facsimile editions:
Mosa Psalter Fragment – Codex 78 A 6 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1974
Detail Picture

Mosa Psalter Fragment

The Deception of Isaac

As Isaac reached the age of 137, he was blind and nearing death. He thus sent for his son Esau, but his wife Rebecca wanted her own son Jacob to receive the blessing as first among the sons of Isaac. She wraps Jacob’s arms in goatskins to make him seem like his hairy brother Esau. Thus disguised, Jacob brings Isaac his food and receives the blessing. After the deception is revealed, Isaac does not reverse his decision, promising Esau that he will one day have dominion.

Das Mosaner Psalter-Fragment
Single Page

Mosa Psalter Fragment

Jacob’s Ladder

This popular prophecy from the Old Testament is presented here in a Romanesque miniature with clear influences from Islamic and Byzantine art. The highly debated dream of Jacob, patriarch of the Israelites, is an interpretation of the obligations and inheritance of God’s chosen people. In Christian theology, the ladder symbolizes the perpetual intercourse between Heaven and Earth.

In this image, the ladder leads directly to Jesus, representing his fulfillment of Jacob’s dream envisioning the reunion of God and mankind. Jacob is clearly identified, with golden beams of inspiration shining down upon him from above, and the vision emanates from his mind as he lies down in sleep. The ladder he envisions leads up a stream of gold leaf to Heaven.

Das Mosaner Psalter-Fragment
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Mosaner Psalter-Fragment

Binding: Parchment binding. All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 1 volume (32 pages) by Hanns Swarzenski
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.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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