12th Century

Utrecht Psalter

Utrecht-Psalter: vollständige Faksimile-Ausgabe im Originalformat der Handschrift 32, aus dem Besitz der Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht: Kommentar. Verlagsanstalt Graz 1984.  Utrecht psalter; Codices selecti phototypice impressi ; v.75.                              
BX2033 .A35 U86 1982 Special Collections Oversize


The Utrecht Psalter is probably the most unusual Psalter of the Middle Ages. It was written and painted between 820 and 840 in the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers near Rheims, on the initiative of Ebbo, archbishop of Rheims and foster brother to Emperor Louis the Pious, the successor of Charlemagne.

All 150 psalms are illustrated with magnificent pen drawings covering the whole width of a page and densely populated with tiny figures hurriedly sketched with a few strokes. These painted figures are frequently imbedded in faintly sketched landscapes. The whole is a product of the Carolingian Renaissance. Some believe that the Utrecht Psalter was a production of a much earlier period, perhaps fifth or sixth century in origin. This was chiefly due to the fact that many archaic conventions, which had by then fallen out of use in manuscript production, are preserved in the text. For example, the Utrecht Psalter is written in rustic capitals, a script no longer common to Carolingian schools. Given the large script and size of the manuscript it is conjectured that it was intended as a choir book, used by several monks chanting together from this common book.

Around the year 1000, the manuscript was brought to England and influenced the outline style of illumination that flourished in England in the 10th century. After the dissolution of English monasteries, the codex passed into private hands. In the 16th century, the Psalter entered the possession of Sir Robert Cotton who had the book bound in the present day full binding of red leather. The manuscript now resides in the Universitätsbibliothek, Utrecht (The Netherlands). The binding has also been entirely reproduced for this facsimile edition.

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