Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. 9961-62 – Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Brussels, Belgium)

London or Norwich (United Kindgom) — Around 1300

Decorated with over 100 golden miniatures: scenes from the Old and New Testaments combined into a single radiant picture cycle

  1. Old and New Testament scenes were combined for the first time and rendered with the costliest materials

  2. The text alternates between gold and azure ink, which is singular in the history of Gothic manuscripts

  3. Historic figures ranging from Charles V (1500–58) to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) have owned the coveted manuscript

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

The Peterborough Psalter was commissioned around 1300 by the abbot of the English Benedictine monastery at Peterborough. The work contains magnificently colored miniatures and historiated initials, as well as valuable gold decoration on each page. As a matter of fact, the text of the codex is written in script alternating between gold and azure, something singular in the history of Gothic manuscripts. Famous people such as Charles V and Napoleon owned this special work and furnished it with their own seigniorial symbols.

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

A collection of Psalms meant for use in daily mass was created for the Benedictine abbey of Peterborough ca. 1300. This psalter is probably the most thrilling example of a Gothic prayer book. The Peterborough Psalter in Brussels contains 141 pages with 116 gold bordered miniatures, 24 calendar medallions, and 10 historiated initials altogether, which stretch across more than half a page and are decorated with scenic bordures, as well as a multitude of smaller gold initials and line decoration made from gold and colorful plant tendrils. The text of the book is consistently written in alternating gold and azure. The imagination of the book’s illuminator was unbounded and no other Gothic psalter is comparable with this richly furnished work.

A Work for a Great Dignitary

Originally, the richly decorated psalter was commissioned by Geoffrey of Cowland, the abbot of the Peterborough Abbey and served as the basis for the monks’ daily choral payers. Later, the codex found itself in the highest ruling houses of Europe, among them were Pope John XXII, Charles V, and Napoleon. While it was in the possession of the French Valois Dynasty, every miniature was furnished with the seigniorial symbol of the fleur-de-lis. The powerful Burgundian Duke Philipp the Good had his coat-of-arms added in gold and silver. The work also gained a personal stamp from Napoleon. His courtly bookmaker added the current binding, which is fitted with a gilded imperial emblem.

A Unique Picture Cycle

At the time, the Peterborough Psalter was the only codex that combined scenes from the Old and New Testaments into a single picture cycle and not illustrated in separate cycles as was common. 38 depictions from the New Testament correspond with 71 miniatures of the Old Testament, as a result there are two to four events from the Old Testament assigned to each scene from the New Testament. There are a few depictions that conspicuously illustrate worldly motifs instead of biblical scenes. A few of these worldly miniatures strongly resemble scenes from the courtly novel “Jehan et Blonde”, which was written in 1278 by the author Philippe de Rémi, who was from Picardy.

Medieval Painting at the Peak of Perfection

The unusually valuable miniatures still astound their modern beholder. Every page of the codex is embellished with gold that draws attention the vibrancy of the bright colors. The miniatures, with finely patterned gold backgrounds, show slim figures with individual facial features. The depicted scenes appear vivid and realistic. Only the costliest materials and color pigments were used. The magnificent miniatures are reminiscent of stained glass in Gothic churches with respect to their monumental impression. The script of the codex was designed in an especially appealing way. The pages of text are written alternately in shimmering gold and intense azure. This particularity highlights the immeasurable value of the work as well and makes it a unique treasure of Gothic book art.


Alternative Titles
Psautier de Peterborough
Peterborough Psalter#
Size / Format
282 pages / 30.0 × 19.5 cm
Around 1300
Gothic textura prescissa
116 miniatures framed in gold, 24 calendar medallions, 10 large (eight- to eleven-line) historiated initials surrounded by decorative scenic borders and smaller initials, marginal figures and zoomorphic line fillers everywhere in the work
Gallican Psalter
Geoffrey of Crowland, abbot of Peterborough Abbey
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Cardinal Gaucelin d'Euse
Pope John XXII
Clementia of Hungary, the Queen Dowager of France
Philip VI
Charles V
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy
Philip II, King of Spain
Napoleon Bonaparte

Available facsimile editions:
Peterborough Psalter in Brussels – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. 9961-62 – Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Brussels, Belgium)
Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2015
Limited Edition: 680 copies
Detail Picture

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

Medieval Organ

Pipe organs were among the most complicated mechanical devises of any kind during the Middle Ages, making owning one a great sign of the wealth and sophistication of the cathedral or monastery that purchased it. Unlike other instruments, they were permitted for church music because of the way they mimicked the human voice. One monk is shown kneeling in front of the organ and pumping the bellows as the other plays the keyboard and looks directly at the beholder.

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. 9961-62 – Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Brussels, Belgium)
Single Page

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels

Beginning of Psalm 1, Beatus Vir

This text page is as richly illuminated as any miniature page and is distinguished by its densely populated frame and neat script written in precious blue and gold ink. King David is depicted with his lyre alongside other musicians, birds, and a dog within a fantastic historiated initial that begins the Psalms: Beatus vir or “Blessed is the man”.

The page is awash with rich primary colors and burnished gold backgrounds. Hunting scenes with bowmen in hot pursuit are depicted at the top and bottom of the page in addition to various creatures, all suspended among intertwining tendrils. To the left of the “B” initial, we see a young David swinging his sling just as he is about to fell Goliath, while other odd figures swings axes and walk on stilts.

Peterborough Psalter in Brussels – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. 9961-62 – Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Brussels, Belgium)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Peterborough-Psalter

Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2015

Publisher: Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2015
Limited Edition: 680 copies
Binding: Just like the original, the facsimile is bound in a red leather binding with pastedowns made of green moiré silk. Rich gold tooling decorates the front and back covers, the spine, and the edges.
Commentary: 1 volume by Lucy Freeman Sandler and Bernard Bousmanne
Languages: English, German, French
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). All folios are cut according to the original. The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
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