Created for King Louis the German: A rare example of Franco-Saxon book illumination with typical insular, intertwined initials and splendidly gold-decorated framework

Psalter of Louis the German

Benedictine Abbey of St. Bertin (France) — 9th Century

Psalter of Louis the German

Psalter of Louis the German

Benedictine Abbey of St. Bertin (France) — 9th Century

  1. This splendid Psalter from the mid-9th century was commissioned for the personal use of the grandson of Charlemagne

  2. After the breakup of the Carolingian Empire, Louis the German (810-876) became King of East Francia from 843 until his death

  3. The text of the Psalms is presented in 200 gold leaf frames in the Insular style with zoomorphic interlace patterns

Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen

Psalter of Louis the German

“D” Initial

An unusual color palette of black, green, and reddish-brown contrasts wonderfully with the gold leaf that has been generously applied to this masterful “D” initial. Aside from the intricate interlace patterns, also known as Celtic knots, the influence of Insular illumination is evident in the incorporation of zoomorphic figures – birds in this instance. Every page of Carolingian miniscule text in this rare Franco-Saxon manuscript is richly embellished with Insular-style initials and frames.

Psalter of Louis the German

Alternative Titles:
  • Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen
  • Psalter for King Louis the German
  • Psautier de Louis le Germanique
  • Ludwigspsalter
  • Psalter van Lodewijk de Duitser
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Created in the mid-9th century, the Psalter of Louis the German is a magnificent specimen of Franco-Saxon art, which was an artistic movement in northern France that mixed Insular illumination from the British Isles with the Carolingian style native to Francia. It was commissioned by Louis the German (810-876), a grandson of Charlemagne who ruled as the first king of East Francia after the breakup of the Carolingian Empire from 843 until his death. The texts of the Psalms are surrounded by frames in the Insular style incorporating intricate interlace patterns with and animal figures, birds in particular. Despite the rich ornamentation, the manuscript is text-focused and the only figural depiction in it is limited to the Crucifixion scene, which is reflects the unique and fascinating nature of the manuscript as a whole.

Psalter of Louis the German

Before the emergence of the book of hours, Psalters were the most popular manuscripts created for personal use. In addition to the Psalms, they often contained common prayers and excerpts from the Gospels that were connected to the songs of David in one way or another. Some of the most magnificent examples of early medieval Psalters were commissioned by or for members of the Carolingian dynasty, including the specimen at hand: the Psalter of Louis the German. It was created in the mid-9th century for the grandson of Charlemagne who ruled as the first king of East Francia after the division of the Carolingian Empire from 843 to 876. It is embellished with some of the finest examples of Carolingian/Insular illumination created with a wonderful color palette and gold leaf, including a gorgeous miniature of the Crucifixion that is unique among Carolingian manuscripts.

A Perfect Specimen of Franco-Saxon Art

At the behest of King Louis the German (810-876), the manuscript was created in the scriptorium of the Abbey of St. Bertin in Saint Omer, not far from Calais on the French coast of the English Channel. The adornment of the codex is characterized by an exemplary blend of the Hiberno-Saxon artistic tradition with Frankish illumination. 200 intricate interlace frames in gold leaf, and numerous decorative initials created with gorgeous shades of green, reddish brown, and purple. Various elements from Insular illumination, such as birds and other animals, can be found alongside the Carolingian miniscule, which was written down by a masterful scribe. Despite the rich ornamentation, the manuscript is text-focused and the only figural depiction in it is limited to the Crucifixion scene. This Franco-Saxon style is unique and distinguished from the Carolingian illumination, which was itself already influenced by the Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks who came to serve Charlemagne in Aachen and continued to serve his descendants in the generations to follow, in addition to serving as missionaries in Central Europe.

For Which Louis?

An inscription in the manuscript indicates that it was dedicated to LUDOVICUS REX, or “King Louis”, and could have been commissioned either by Louis I “the Pious” or his son Louis II “the German”. It is only through the careful examination of various artistic details that researchers have been able to determine who the patron of the manuscript was, but this ambiguity may have been intentional – an indication of continuity whereby Louis the German traced his legitimacy back to Charlemagne, his grandfather. Elaborately illuminated Psalters were traditionally commissioned by members of the Carolingian dynasty, including the Golden Psalter of Charlemagne, commissioned as a gift for his wife Hildegard and one of the oldest manuscripts created for personal use.

Kneeling Before the Crucifixion

The only figural representation in the manuscript consists of a miniature showing a young man kneeling at the base of the cross upon which Christ was crucified. Dressed in a purple tunic, this person is most likely meant to represent the king himself. Christ, flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist as well as figures representing the Sun and Moon, looks down upon him with a look of approval. Unlike most Carolingian donor portraits, which show the patron seated on a throne and being presented with the manuscript they commissioned, this miniature shows a mighty Frankish monarch as a beardless youth paying homage to the King of Kings.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen
Psalter for King Louis the German
Psautier de Louis le Germanique
Ludwigspsalter
Psalter van Lodewijk de Duitser
Size / Format
240 pages / 29.4 × 24.6 cm
Date
9th Century
Language
Script
Caroline Minuscule Insular Uncial
Illustrations
1 full-page crucifixion with donor portrait
162 decorated and gilded initials
115 interlaced and gilded frames
Content
Old Testament Psalm Texts, hymns and litanies
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen

Psalter of Louis the German

Kneeling Before Christ Crucified

In contrast to a typical donor portrait from the Carolingian period, in which the patron of the manuscript is shown enthroned and receiving the manuscript, here Louis the German presents himself as a beardless youth kneeling at the foot of the cross. Aside from the fact that he is dressed in royal purple, this miniature is an expression of piety and humility before the King of Kings.

Blood flows from the hands and feet of Christ as he looks down upon the King of East Francia with a look of approval on his bearded face. He is flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist as well as two figures representing the Sun and Moon – an allusion to the eclipse or portent that occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death according the Gospels.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Psalter of Louis the German“

Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Psalter of Louis the German – Ms. Theol. Lat. Fol. 58 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
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Psalter Ludwigs des Deutschen

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 2021
Limited Edition
999 copies
Commentary
1 volume by Jürgen Geiß-Wunderlich
Language: German
More Information
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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