Psalter of Frederick II

Psalter of Frederick II Facsimile Edition

Probably Israel — 1235–1237

A luxury manuscript with gold, jewels, and precious silk: a splendid wedding gift from the Staufer Emperor Frederick II to his wife Isabella of England

  1. The Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) was called Stupor Mundi, “wonder of the world”, because of his thirst for knowledge and artistic sensibility

  2. This Psalter was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor as a wedding present for his wife Isabella of England (1214–1241)

  3. It was part of a sumptuous dowry that included caskets of gold, jewels, necklaces, tableware, and furnishings

Psalter of Frederick II

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

This precious Psalter is one of the many splendid manuscripts commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, one of the greatest patrons of art, culture and learning in the entire Middle Ages. Intended as a wedding gift for his fourth wife, Princess Isabella of England, this exceptional codex was created between 1235 and 1237, probably in a scriptorium in the territory of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Byzantine style of the richly decorated manuscript immediately catches the eye, and the amount of gold leaf and expensive pigments testifies to the wealth and sophistication of its imperial patron. The valuable codex arrived in the Dominican convent of Saint Silvester in Pisa in the 14th century at the latest, after which it finally came to Florence via several private collections, where it is now kept in the Biblioteca Riccardiana.

Psalter of Frederick II

The extraordinary collection of medieval codices conserved in the Biblioteca Riccardiana of Florence includes a parchment manuscript, inventoried under number 323 and better known as the Psalter of Frederick II. The Libro dei Salmi di Federico II is a little jewel, probably illuminated ca. 1235–1237 in some scriptorium of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, one of four Crusader states in the Holy Land, commissioned by the Swabian Emperor as a wedding gift for his fourth wife Isabella of England, daughter of King John “Lackland” and sister of Henry III Plantagenet, whom he married at Worms on July 20, 1235. The preparations for the wedding were splendid; the sumptuous dowry consisted of caskets of gold, jewels, necklaces, tableware, and furnishings, and most likely also included the psalter intended to accompany the empress in her daily prayers.

An Imperial Commission

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) was one of the most educated rulers of the Middle Ages and his court attracted the greatest artists and scholars of the 13th century. Worthy of its imperial patron, this precious codex strikes the eye because of the chromatic wealth of its miniatures, gold grounds that make them resemble mosaics, the brightness of colors, and a quasi-enameled surface. We have sought to render this brilliance in the reproduction by adopting a special printing technique with stochastic cross-hatching that makes it possible to obtain a continuous tone of coloring, rendering colors, and details with a photographic quality. The successive application of gold dust has made it possible to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, the almost chalky characteristics of gold applied with a brush on the codex sheets, while the natural parchment used to line the book boards renders the medieval flavor of the original binding, unfortunately lost, which was duplicated in the 1800s and still today protects the volume.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Libro dei Salmi di Federico II
Salterio di Federico II
Book of Psalms of Frederick II
Psalterium et cantica Ecclesiae
Psalter Friedrichs II.
Buch der Psalmen von Friedrichs II.
Size / Format
175 folios / 22.5 × 16.0 cm
Origin
Date
1235–1237
Language
Script
Gothic Textura Rotunda
Illustrations
1 full-page historiated initial, 8 large miniatures from the life of Christ, ca. 50 illustrated initials in red, blue, green, and shades of brown
Content
Book of Psalms and other passages from the Old and New Testaments
Patron
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250)
Previous Owners
Empress Isabella of England (1214–41), wife of Frederick II

Available facsimile editions:
Psalter of Frederick II – Ms. Ricc 323 – Biblioteca Riccardiana (Florence, Italy) Facsimile Edition
Vallecchi – Florence, 2006
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Detail Picture

Psalter of Frederick II

Incipit, Psalm 80

This miniature is split into two registers and inserted into an incipit for Psalm 80. The second verse is presented on the right in gold leaf and written in majuscule: EXVLTATATE DEO ADIVOTRI NOSTRO or “Joy to God our strength…” Dark shades of blue and purple contrast with bright red and shimmering gold leaf backgrounds. This is one of the “communal laments”, a call to God for help ending with: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!” (Ps. 80:19)

Libro dei Salmi di Federico II
Single Page

Psalter of Frederick II

Beatus Vir Initial

Beatus vir or “Blessed is the man” – thus begins the Book of Psalms in the Vulgate Bible. This initial / incipit page is a standard feature of many medieval manuscripts, but this specimen is arguably the finest and truly worthy of an emperor. The historiated initial contains the events of the Nativity as well as prophets and other relevant figures from the Old Testament like King David.

The “B” initial consists of two red dragons with dark green wings, which is further adorned by blue interlace. Although the figures exhibit the realism and plasticity of 13th century Italian illumination, this page, like the rest of the manuscript, is clearly Byzantine in style. This is particularly evident in the dark, opaque colors and burnished gold background.

Libro dei Salmi di Federico II
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro dei Salmi di Federico II

Vallecchi – Florence, 2006

Publisher: Vallecchi – Florence, 2006
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Boards covered with natural parchment modelled on the now-lost original medieval binding
Commentary: 1 volume by Franco Cardini and Giovanna Lazzi
Language: Italian
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduced in a special printing technique with stochastic cross-hatching that makes it possible to obtain a continuous tone of colouring, rendering colours and details with a photographic quality. The successive application of gold dust has made it possible to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, the almost chalky characteristics of gold applied with a brush on the codex sheets.
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