Psalter of Louis the Saint

Psalter of Louis the Saint Facsimile Edition

Paris (France) — 1260–1270

Miniatures like luminous church windows of the Gothic period: the stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in one of the most beautiful masterpieces of French illumination

  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

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Psalter of Louis the Saint

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.


Alternative Titles
Psautier de Saint Louis
Salterio di San Luigi
Psalter Ludwigs des Heiligen
Psautier dit de saint Louis
Psalter of Louis IX
Size / Format
520 pages / 21.0 × 14.5 cm
Gothic Textura Quadrata
78 full-page miniatures, 8 large historiated initials, and numerous smaller decorative initials
Psalter - use of Paris, litrugical calendar, canticles
King Louis IX aka Louis the Saint (1214–70)
Previous Owners
Jeanne d'Evreux (1310–71)
Charles V (1338–80)
Charles VI (1368–1422)
Marie of Valois, Prioress of Poissy (1393–1438)
Count Alexis Golovkin (1765-1811)
Prince Mikhail Petrovich Golitzin (1764–1835)
Louis XVIII (1755–1824)

Available facsimile editions:
Psalter of Louis the Saint – Ms. lat. 10525 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Detail Picture

Psalter of Louis the Saint

Beatus Vir

This splendid historiated initial with two faces wrapped in acanthus leaves introduces the first words of the Book of Psalms, “Blessed is the man”. In the upper register, David looks out the window of a Gothic palace at the naked Bathsheba. Her impregnation and the subsequent scheme to have her husband killed by placing him in the first line of battle are omitted. Instead, the lower register “fast-forwards” to David repenting on his knees in front of a background patterned with fleurs-de-lys to God, who is enthroned in a mandorla holding a globe with a “T-O” map in one hand and making the sign of benediction with the other.

Psautier de Saint Louis
Single Page

Psalter of Louis the Saint

The Victory of Abraham over the Four Kings

In a rarely depicted scene from Genesis 14, Abraham leads 318 trained servants from his household in a raid against their enemies, an alliance of the four Mesopotamian kings Kedorlaomer, Tidal, Amraphel, and Arioch. They free Lot and other captives, recover their looted goods, and completely route the enemy, whose camp is represented by two white tents. The scene, like the rest of the 78 full-page miniatures, plays out beneath a Gothic architecture.

Three of the four kings lie dead in a heap as Abraham, dressed in red with a white beard, raises his sword to slay the fourth king. His shield has a dragon escutcheon in contrast to the fleurs-de-lys of Abraham’s shield – one of numerous allusions to a connection between the French royal house and various prominent biblical figures. An additional four pairs of dragons are depicted with intertwined necks in the corners of the decorative frame.

Psautier de Saint Louis
Facsimile Editions

#1 Psautier de Saint Louis

Binding: Leather
Commentary: 1 volume by Marcel Thomas
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. 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: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
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