Miniatures like stained-glass windows: the glass painting of Sainte Chapelle in one of the finest masterpieces of French illumination

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Paris (France) — 1260-1270

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Paris (France) — 1260-1270

  1. King Louis IX (1214-1270) is the only canonized French monarch and one of the most beloved French kings

  2. The imagery in his Psalter has a striking similarity to the stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle, also commissioned by Saint Louis

  3. A masterpiece of book illumination with refined calligraphy and sumptuous burnished gold backgrounds

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Alternative Titles:
  • Psautier de Saint Louis
  • Salterio di San Luigi
  • Psalter Ludwigs des Heiligen
Psalter of Louis the Saint – Ms. lat. 10525 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

King Louis IX (1226-1270), also known as Louis the Saint, is the only canonized French monarch and is considered to be one of the most beloved kings of medieval France. Known as a reformer, especially to the justice system, his life was driven by a deep and sincere devotion to Christianity and Louis may have come closer to the ideal of a Christian king than any other. Louis was also a great patron of the arts, including some outstanding Gothic manuscripts. Among them is the Psalter of Saint Louis, which boasts a lose relationship between its miniatures and the stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, also built at the behest of Louis the Saint. The 78 full page miniatures of the text are set against a sumptuously-burnished golden ground, thus lending the pictures an appearance of unequalled splendid glory. The figures are slender, graceful, and of a noble and elegant posture. This undoubtedly represents a highlight of Gothic illumination!

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Only a small number of manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale may surpass the Psalter of Saint Louis in value and celebrity. Its value as one of the foremost artistic documents of French Gothic resides not only in the fact that it belonged to this French sovereign (1226–1270), whose great sense of justice and statesmanship were widely known, but also in the close relationship between its miniatures and the stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. This precious manuscript today holds 260 leaves, including 78 sumptuous full-page miniatures and eight magnificent figural initials. The miniatures literally illustrate diverse scenes of the Old Testament and undoubtedly represent a highlight of Gothic illumination. The text pages of the calendar and the Psalms in Latin perfectly match the pictorial decoration. They greatly contribute to the Psalter of Saint Louis, which is considered a masterpiece of book illumination, with their consistently executed calligraphy, elegantly balanced text layout, and rich decoration. Much like the stained glass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle, of which we are reminded in various aspects, the psalter not only constitutes a work of art but was mainly intended to provide a deeper understanding of the scriptures.

The Precious Miniatures

The biblical scenes are all depicted on a sumptuously-burnished golden ground, thus lending the pictures an appearance of unequalled splendid glory. The back of each miniature, painted on beautiful bright vellum, has been left blank to avoid the impairment of the pictures due to colors seeping through from the other side of the page. When opening the book, the beholder thus sees either two paired miniatures or two legends in French inscribed by a contemporary scribe on the verso side of each page. Although the manuscript seems to be the work of a team of illuminators, as was the case with most medieval manuscripts, it reflects great coherence. Most of the miniatures conform to the same design, the upper part being ornate with architectural motifs, a common feature of the early medieval tradition. The space below the architectural section is composed of two equally large oblong surfaces, usually representing Old Testament scenes. The figures are slender, graceful, and of a noble and elegant posture. They convey a feeling of harmony and movement, strangely contrasting with the seriousness and sometimes even the horror of the topics treated. Besides the deep blue and rose in the vestments of the depicted persons, one also finds light green, grey blue, and delicate tones of rose emerging timidly.

The Inventive Frames

All miniatures are set in frames. Some of them consist of big interlacing branches with trident leaves, their corners being filled with two intertwining dragons. Other frames are formed of alternately blue and red strips which are ornate with delicate golden foliage. Finally, some frames borrowed from Arab calligraphy, showing classical foliage combined with other, less frequently used motives.

A Saintly Picture Book

The tradition of combining Old Testament scenes with Davidian Psalms probably goes back to late antiquity, a tradition which was to be rediscovered by English scribes and Byzantine masters in the 12th or 13th century when the crusaders had established links between the West and the Christian Orient. In the 13th century there was a predilection for the depiction of biblical narratives, in the art of stained glass as well as in sculpture and illumination. It was the heyday of big didactic works which almost exclusively consisted of pictures, such as the Bible moralisée or the magnificent Bible of Saint Louis.

A King’s Prayer Book

We know with great certainty that Saint Louis was the owner of the psalter, which he had perhaps commissioned or even devised himself. We may be sure that the sovereign, whose biographers confirm that he read the Bible or other holy texts every day, was perfectly able to recognize and appreciate the depictions of the Old Testament. After the death of Saint Louis, his psalter passed through several noble hands and finally ended up in the National Library in Paris. It was a highly venerated gift on each occasion.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Psautier de Saint Louis
Salterio di San Luigi
Psalter Ludwigs des Heiligen
Size / Format
520 pages / 21.0 x 14.5 cm
Date
1260-1270
Style
Gothic
Illustrations
78 full-page miniatures, figural initials
Previous Owners

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

Psautier de Saint Louis
Psalter of Louis the Saint – Ms. lat. 10525 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
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Psautier de Saint Louis

1 volume: This facsimile is not complete.
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Binding
Leather
Commentary
1 volume
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.
Price Category: €
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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