Werden Psalter

Werden Psalter

Benedictine abbey of Werden (Germany) — After 1029

Created in the Werden an der Ruhr Monastery: a link between late Carolingian and Romanesque book painting

  1. A highlight of 11th century illumination from the scriptorium of Werden Abbey, situated on the Ruhr River

  2. Wonderful initials precede all 150 Psalms and outstanding miniatures adorn the manuscript

  3. This unrivalled and perfectly harmonious work bridges the late-Carolingian and Romanesque styles

Werden Psalter

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Edition available
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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Description
Werden Psalter

The Werden Psalter** is one of the most prized possessions of Berlin's Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz and for good reason. Also known as the "Luxury Psalter" because of its lavish decoration, the Late Carolingian manuscript is a testimonial to the artistic prowess of the monks who worked as scribes and illuminators in the scriptorium of Werden Abbey. Although it contains the kind of scenes typical for a psalter, such as David and Goliath, the *Werden Psalter was not intended for liturgical purposes. Rather, all indications point to the probability that this manuscript was made as a private devotional book for a wealthy but unknown patron. This Romanesque manuscript is protected by a sumptuous 16th century binding.

Werden Psalter

The Werden Psalter belongs to the most significant and widely known deluxe medieval manuscripts kept in the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz of Berlin. It is also called the “Luxury Psalter” because of its lavish decoration and bears splendid testimony to medieval illumination. The codex was made at Werden where Saint Liudger, Bishop of Münster, had founded an abbey around the year 800. This Benedictine abbey had its heyday in the 11th century and the Werden Psalter may be looked upon as the artistic expression of a proud monastery. The manuscript contains a psalter in an unusual form of text. The contents and artistic decoration of the Werden Psalter are extremely rich and remarkable in all aspects. Its outstanding miniatures, which have always been an object of admiration, its marvelous initials of great artistic importance with respect to illumination, the ornamental pages and titles, as well as the script are all important features of this unrivalled and perfectly harmonious work.

The Extravagant Splendor of a Sumptuous Psalter

The series of psalms contained in the book is preceded by the author’s portrait depicting the biblical King David in his two functions, as sovereign and as a composer of the Psalms (fol. 1v). This topic returns in two further episodes with the slaying of Goliath on fol. 74r and the presentation of his head to King Saul. The third full-page miniature shows Christ having won the fight against the dragon and the lion (fol. 64r). The strictly formal, symmetrical structure and balanced coloring of the title illustrations convey a feeling of peace and dignified sobriety, thus forming a charming contrast to the elaborate ornamental decoration of initials.

Gold and Silver Initials

The initial pages following the miniature pages introduce each subsequent Psalm with gold and silver tendrils, initials set against a purple background, as well as gold and silver initials. Furthermore, all 150 psalms as well as the subsequent cantica start with large initials composed of gold and silver tendrils. They are complete with particularly elaborate ornamental lines on a purple field with alternating gold and silver majuscules. The text is written without paragraphs in an even, elegant late Carolingian minuscule script; the verse incipits are marked with small purple squares containing gold and silver letters. A total of 190 interlaced initials consist of geometrically arranged bands, many of them enriched with floral elements. Architecture, dragons, birds, dogs, and depictions of humans embellish the bands in the ornamental letters, making them resourceful miniatures in their own right. They all lend the work an overall impression of invaluable luxury, which only a few other manuscripts may boast.

Text and Calendar

The Werden Psalter contains the text of the Psalterium Romanum**, an old Latin text which hardly differs from the Vulgate version, as well as related old Latin cantica and several prayers. The manuscript concludes with a comprehensive calendar and two calculation tables for the feast of Easter and the moon dates required for this purpose. The *Werden Psalter is no doubt a luxury psalter that was produced for a high-ranking and wealthy individual rather than serving liturgical purposes. Both the text and decorative apparatus of the book support this assumption.

The Binding

The manuscript is protected by a lavishly ornate leather binding which is not the original but was made in the second half of the 16th century. It was decorated using roulettes, i.e. metal rolls which were heated up before rolling them onto the humid leather. In a frame appear the inscribed busts of Fortitudo (Courage), Prudentia (Prudence), and Iustitia (Justice), as well as a fourth virtue Lucrecia, instead of Temperantia (Moderation) as one would expect.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Werdener Psalter
Size / Format
237 pages / 25.4 × 17.5 cm
Origin
Germany
Date
After 1029
Style
Language
Illustrations
6 full-page miniatures and ornaments, 190 larger mostly golden and silver initial letters

Available facsimile editions:
Werden Psalter – Ms. theol. lat. fol. 358 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1979
Limited Edition: 765 copies

Der Werdener Psalter (De Luxe Edition)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1979
Limited Edition: 85 copies
Detail Picture

Werden Psalter

Incipit Page: Beatus Vir

This “B” initial is a fine specimen of Romanesque art and introduces the phrase Beatus vir or “Blessed is the man”, which are the opening words of the Book of Psalms in Latin. Only the finest materials were used for the creation of this incipit page: rich pigments, gold leaf, and a purple dyed background. The black lettering is actually silver that has oxidized over the centuries. King David, the author of the Psalms, is depicted working in both registers of this fine historiated initial.

Der Werdener Psalter (Standard Edition)
Single Page

Werden Psalter

Portrait of King David

The opening page of this perfectly harmonious work of Romanesque illumination depicts the reputed author of the Psalms, King David. He is depicted in his two functions in this miniature, which is split into two registers: above we see David the ruler of the Kingdom of Israel, below we see him as the composer of the Psalms.

Like the rest of the miniatures in the manuscript, this composition is distinguished by its symmetrical structure, balanced color palette, and its overall sense of peace and dignified sobriety. The rich colors, purple in particular, contrast wonderfully with the gold leaf of the frame and highlights the scene’s imagery. Entertainers ranging from musicians to jugglers are depicted in small medallions at the frame’s corners.

Der Werdener Psalter (Standard Edition)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Werdener Psalter (Standard Edition)

Werden Psalter – Ms. theol. lat. fol. 358 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Werden Psalter – Ms. theol. lat. fol. 358 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Limited Edition: 765 copies
Binding: Leather, true copy of the original binding. All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 1 volume (54 pages) by H. Knaus
Language: German

The scholarly commentary by Hermann Knaus provides a comprehensive description of the Werden Psalter. It not only discusses the art historical significance of its miniatures and decoration but also explains the contents of the work and analyses the dating and localisation of the manuscript.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) All folios are cut according to the original.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Please ask for a quote!

#2 Der Werdener Psalter (De Luxe Edition)

Limited Edition: 85 copies
Binding: Leather, true copy of the original binding. All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 1 volume (54 pages) by H. Knaus
Language: German

The scholarly commentary by Hermann Knaus provides a comprehensive description of the Werden Psalter. It not only discusses the art historical significance of its miniatures and decoration but also explains the contents of the work and analyses the dating and localisation of the manuscript.
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) All folios are cut according to the original.
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