Munich Serbian Psalter

Munich Serbian Psalter Facsimile Edition

Serbia — Late 14th century

Once brought to Bavaria as booty during the Ottoman Wars: the most important example of Serbian medieval illumination with 148 impressive miniatures against a luminous gold background

  1. The most important specimen of medieval Serbian illumination originated at the end of the 14th century

  2. 148 mostly-full-page miniatures on a splendid gold background illustrate the Old and New Testaments

  3. The manuscript came to Bavaria as plunder during the turmoil of the Turkish Wars of the 17th century

Munich Serbian Psalter

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Munich Serbian Psalter

The Munich Serbian Psalter was created by talented but unknown artists in late 14th century Serbia and is considered the most important testimony to medieval Serbian book art. Commissioned by the Serbian prince and saint Lazar Hrebeljanović or his son Stefan Lazarević, the codex features extensive and elaborate book decoration: A total of 148 mostly full-page miniatures featuring Byzantine influences shine against a precious gold background and illustrate the psalm texts with scenes from the New and Old Testaments. The important treasure of Slavic book illumination was accordingly much sought after throughout its existence and passed through many hands. After it came as booty to Bavaria during the Ottoman Wars in the 17th century, it finally found its way to Munich in the course of secularisation, where it is still kept today in the Bavarian State Library.

Munich Serbian Psalter

The impressive Munich Serbian Psalter, which is housed today in the Bavarian State Library, is the most important evidence of Serbian illumination in the Middle Ages. The Serbian illuminated manuscript originated from the Balkans at the end of the 14th century and has extensive pictorial adornment: altogether, 148 mostly-full-page miniatures on a splendid gold background illustrate the Old and New Testaments in addition to the Psalms. As such a significant treasure of Slavic illumination, the codex was highly coveted and can look back on an eventful provenance.

A Princely Commission

The impressive Serbian manuscript, known as the Munich Serbian Psalter, was probably the commission of the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović or his son Stefan Lazarević. Hrebeljanović (ca. 1329–1389) is considered to be a significant Serbian feudal lord, famous above all for his struggles against the Ottomans. The Prince of Serbia fell in the Battle of Amselfeld and was sainted in the Serbian Orthodox Church for his service to his fatherland. Stefan Lazarević (1377–1427), his son and heir, is famous as a patron of art and literature, Serbian literature was founded at his court inter alia.

Slavic Art on a Splendid Gold Background

As a princely commission, the psalter presents itself in overflowing splendor. The visual adornment comprises 148 miniatures on 229 pages measuring 28 x 19.7 cm. These mostly-full-page depictions in blue and red frames on gold backgrounds illustrate the text of the manuscript in the Slavic style with distinct Byzantine influences: the Old and New Testaments, the Psalms, and doxologies in Serbian. The spectrum of themes ranges thereby from the Good Samaritan to the birth of Christ to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. As a result, the Munich Serbian Psalter is the most comprehensive illuminated manuscript of Serbian Orthodoxy.

The Way from Serbia to Bavaria

The psalter found itself in the possession of the princely Serbian Branković family and reached the Privina Glava Monastery on Fruška Gora mountain (Srem) by the 17th century at the latest. During the turmoil of the Turkish Wars, the manuscript came as plunder to Bavaria and into the possession of Wolfgang Heinrich von Gemell zu Flischbach, who gifted the codex to Gotteszell Abbey in Lower Bavaria. It found its way from there to St. Emmeram in Regensburg in 1782 and finally came to Munich in 1810 during the course of Secularization. Stored under the shelf mark Codex Monacensis Slavicus 4, today the Munich Serbian Psalteris one of the treasures of the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Münchner Serbischer Psalter
Serbischer Psalter
Psautier Serbe de Munich
Size / Format
229 pages / 28.0 × 19.7 cm
Origin
Serbia
Date
Late 14th century
Script
Uncial
Illustrations
148 miniatures, which often occupy whole pages, painted on a gold background and framed by red and blue lines
Content
The Psalms, the canticles, and the Akathist to the Theotokos
Patron
Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović of Serbia (c. 1329 – June 15th 1389) or his son Stefan Lazarević, the Tall (c. 1377 – July 19th 1427)
Previous Owners
Moravian Serbia and Serbian Despotate (14th–15th centuries)
Privina Glava Monastery in Syrmia (17th century)
Wolfgang Heinrich of Gemell zu Flischbach
Gotteszell Monastery in the Bavarian Forest (1689–1782)
St Emmeram's Monastery, Regensburg (1782 – c. 1800)

Available facsimile editions:
Munich Serbian Psalter – Codex Monacensis Slavicus 4 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Reichert Verlag – Wiesbaden, 1983
Detail Picture

Munich Serbian Psalter

Baptism of Jesus

As a group of angels look on with anticipation, Jesus is shown stripped to the waste as John the Baptist reaches out to dunk his head underwater: “It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’.” (Mark 1:9-11)

Münchner Serbischer Psalter
Single Page

Munich Serbian Psalter

Psalm 55 / David in Gath

Fleeing from the murderous jealousy of King Saul, David fled first to Nob before coming to Gath, the Philistine city of Goliath. He is detained there because of uncertainty concerning his loyalty. The caption of this miniature reads “The Gentiles seized David, handcuffed him, and locked him in the city of Gath.”

This manuscript’s Byzantine influence is immediately discernible from the burnished gold leaf background, standardized faces, and expressive gestures in this miniature. David is depicted with a halo and wearing a long robe of red and gold with his hands bound. He is seized by soldiers wearing either scale or lamellar armor, also depicted with gold leaf, and is pictured imprisoned in a tower above the walls, resting his head on his hand.

Münchner Serbischer Psalter
Facsimile Editions

#1 Münchner Serbischer Psalter

Reichert Verlag – Wiesbaden, 1983

Publisher: Reichert Verlag – Wiesbaden, 1983
Binding: Linen
Commentary: 1 volume (306 pages) by Hans Belting, Suzy Dufrenne, Svetozaz Radojcic, Rainer Stichel and Ihor Sevenko
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Folios are not cut according to the original.
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