Rheinau Psalter

Rheinau Psalter – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. Rh. 167 – Zentralbibliothek Zürich (Zürich, Switzerland)

Area of Lake Constance (Austria/Switzerland) — Ca. 1260

Textbook elegance of the High Gothic: impressive figures wearing highly stylized robes in stylish frames with gold and silver leaf in this Psalter from Lake Constance

  1. The manuscript is dedicated to numerous saints who were venerated in the diocese of Constance

  2. It features miniatures and historiated initials, some of which occupy an entire page

  3. A sophisticated color palette meets new artistic techniques such as the zackenstil or “jagged style”

Rheinau Psalter

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Rheinau Psalter

Among the numerous treasures of the Zurich Central Library, the Rheinau Psalter distinguishes itself as an artistic triumph of the High Gothic period utilizing a sophisticated color palette and pioneering artistic techniques such as the zackenstil or “jagged style”. Created ca. 1260, the manuscript features numerous saints who were venerated in the diocese of Constance. It was likely commissioned by someone in the area of Lake Constance, probably in the city of Constance itself, which was an important political and religious center at the time. The miniatures and historiated initials of the manuscript, some of which occupy an entire page, show elegant figures draped in highly stylized garments in elegant frames utilizing gold and silver leaf.

Rheinau Psalter

This outstanding work of early Gothic illumination from the mid-13th century is named after its previous owner, Rheinau Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that existed for more than a millennium after it was founded in 778, save for a short period during the Napoleonic Wars. Despite its beauty and the attention it has received from researchers, little is known about the manuscript, including where it was created, although important clues regarding its origins can be found in the calendar, specifically the saints whose feasts are highlighted.
A bill of sale written by Father Blasius Hauntinger in the front cover of the manuscript states that it was acquired at auction by Rheinau Abbey on February 22nd, 1817, from the library of the great antiquarian Johannes Melchior Kirchhofer (1736-1837). Such was Kirchhofer’s collection that the auction lasted for several days. This purchase was not an isolated incident and many of the manuscripts once found in Rheinau Abbey were purchased in addition to many gifts and donations, partially because there is no evidence that it had its own scriptorium. Furthermore, the abbots were avid collectors with a taste for fine things and hired agents to acquire them from abroad. After the dissolution of Rheinau Abbey in 1862, its entire library, including this splendid Psalter, became part of the Zurich Central Library where it resides today.

A Mysterious Masterpiece

The incredible illumination of this manuscript resembles the stained-glass of a cathedral and consists of 19 radiant full-page miniatures and initials (some historiated), of the highest quality as well as numerous smaller decorative initials illustrate all 150 of the Psalms. It is one of the first Psalter manuscripts and was not created for monastic use but as the private prayerbook of a high-ranking individual. The saints in the calendar and the style of the illumination points to Constance ca. 1260 and the bright colors, especially red and blue, indicate that the atelier may have been in close proximity to a stained-glass workshop. Furthermore, the miniatures exhibit the transition from the strictly geometric, linear Zackenstil to the softer, more expansive Gothic style exhibited in the windows of Strasbourg Cathedral. Aside from its splendid color palette, silver and gold have been skillfully and variously applied throughout the manuscript.


Alternative Titles
Rheinauer Psalter
Salterio de Rheinau
Size / Format
398 pages / 27.5 × 18.5 cm
Ca. 1260

Available facsimile editions:
Rheinau Psalter – Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Ms. Rh. 167 – Zentralbibliothek Zürich (Zürich, Switzerland)
Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2013
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Rheinauer Psalter: Meisterwerk der Buchmalerei um 1260

Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2013
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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