Psalter of Blanche of Castile

Psalter of Blanche of Castile – Müller & Schindler – MS 1186 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)

Paris (France) — 1200–1230

A book treasure shining with light from the magnificent Sainte Chapelle in Paris: gilded Gothic miniatures as beautiful and luminous as church windows, created for Blanche de Castille, the mother of King Louis the Saint

  1. Blanche de Castille (1188–1252) was Queen Regent of France twice over and wife to King Louis VIII (1187–1226)

  2. She was also mother of Louis IX (1214–70), known as Saint Louis, remembered for his piety and patronage of the arts

  3. 27 full-page miniatures, 24 medallion miniatures in the calendar section, and 9 gilded initials accompany the text

Psalter of Blanche of Castile

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Psalter of Blanche of Castile

This fantastic early Gothic manuscript was made ca. 1230 by a group of skilled masters in Paris. Known as the Psalter of Blanche of Castile, the work owes its name to its owner and presumed patron, who was the Queen of France and a distinguished patron of the arts. Alternatively, the name Psalter of Sainte-Chapelle is also common and is a reference to the manuscript's long-term repository in the famous palace chapel of the same name in Paris. Although it is an early Gothic work, the Psalter is remarkable for being encased in one of the few surviving Romanesque bindings, which, thanks to careful preservation, has survived in excellent condition. Inside, the manuscript shines in shimmering gold leaf on almost every page, thus revealing a truly regal aura, complemented by elaborate full-page miniatures and historiated initials.

Psalter of Blanche of Castile

Before the rise of the book of hours, Psalters were the most richly illuminated manuscripts. The splendid Psalter of Blanche de Castile is named for its presumed royal owner, Blanche de Castile (1188–1252), Queen of France and wife to King Louis VIII (1187–1226). She was mother of the famous French monarch Louis IX (1214–70), also known as Saint Louis, who was himself a great patron of the arts. It is obvious from the lavish adornment of this Psalter that he was influenced by his environment. It is also known as the Psalter of Sainte-Chapelle, because it was stored in the famous royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle from 1335 until the 18th century, when it was brought to the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, where it is stored under the shelf mark of MS 1186 to this day. In order to protect the cover, a chemise was made of splendid fabric embroidered with golden fleurs-de-lys, presumably at the behest of King Charles V (1338–80). Thanks to the efforts made to protect the book jewel, it is one of the few testimonies of Romanesque book bindings still preserved today. Although a direct connection to Blanche de Castile cannot be made, it is theorized that she is the woman depicted praying in a historiated initial on folio 190r with the words miserrimam peccatricem, “the very poorest sinner”. It may have either been made for or gifted to her. Nonetheless, the opulent use of gold indicates that the Psalter was made for a lady from the nobility.

An Early Gothic Masterpiece

Although housed in a Romanesque binding, the contents of the book indicate that it is one of the earliest manuscripts to be created in the new Gothic style. Created ca. 1230, this Psalter is distinguished by its rich gold adornment, beautiful ornaments, innovative drolleries, masterly decorated miniatures, and a color palette dominated by red, blue, and green. Aside from the 27 full-page miniatures, there are 24 medallion miniatures in the calendar section with zodiac signs and symbolic scenes. The imagery is strongly reminiscent of the stained glass windows of Gothic French cathedrals that were just then rising across the land. 9 gilded initials accompany the text, as well as countless ornaments and drolleries such as small dragons, dogs, birds and other fantastic creatures, which often romp over the text field on the edge of the folios. Almost every page of the manuscript glimmers with gold leaf. The manuscript stylistically points to a group extremely talented artists, and considering how great a patron of the arts Blanche de Castile, it is entirely plausible that the connection between her and the manuscript is in fact real.


Alternative Titles
Königspsalter der Sainte Chapelle
Sainte-Chapelle Psalter
Royal Psalter of Sainte-Chapelle
Psautier latin dit de saint Louis et de Blanche de Castille
Size / Format
384 pages / 28.0 × 22.0 cm
Gothic Textura
27 full-page miniatures, 9 historiated initials, 24 calendar medallions
Previous Owners
Blanche of Castile (1188–1252)
Charles V (1338–80)

Available facsimile editions:
Psalter of Blanche of Castile – Müller & Schindler – MS 1186 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)
Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2021
Limited Edition: 600 copies
Detail Picture

Psalter of Blanche of Castile

Baptism of Jesus

This artistic medallion shows the baptism of Christ in bright colours on a magnificent gold background. In the centre is Jesus in the Jordan, his hand raised in a gesture of blessing and the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over his head. To his left stands John the Baptist dressed in fur, touching Jesus' shoulder and head with his hands. On the right, an angel is holding Christ's clothes in readiness. His naked body is covered up to his belly by the water of the river. It is unusual that Jesus is not standing on the bottom of the river, but on a pedestal. This iconographic peculiarity could be based on the Suffering Psalter. There, Jesus is also depicted in the Jordan on a stone slab.

Psalter of Blanche of Castile – Müller & Schindler – MS 1186 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)
Single Page

Psalter of Blanche of Castile

Root of Jesse

As if framed in a colourful stained glass window, the root of Jesse rises as a stylised tree under a bright blue arch. The arch separates the central field of the miniature from the two narrower side fields framed in red. Like the other miniatures of the magnificent Psalter, this page is also distinguished by the luminous colouring and the shimmering gold leaf with which the figural depictions are backed.

The trunk of the root of Jesse rises from the loins of the sleeping father of the tribe and then divides into two branches, which frame three almond-shaped picture fields in elaborate vegetal tendrils. The lower panel shows David holding a harp in his hands. Mary is enthroned above him, grasping the framing tendrils with her hands. Christ is depicted in the upper panel, his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. Next to the floral tendrils, a wreath of seven doves closes the picture fields towards the top. The central image is surrounded by four semi-circular panels, each of which is decorated with nimbed figures.

Psalter of Blanche of Castile – Müller & Schindler – MS 1186 – Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris, France)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Königspsalter der Sainte Chapelle

Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2021

Publisher: Müller & Schindler – Simbach am Inn, 2021
Limited Edition: 600 copies
Binding: The original binding is reproduced. Comes with a reproduction of the 19th century jewelry case and the 14th century chemise.
Commentary: 1 volume (advance commentary volume)
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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