Miniatures in Detail
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The St. Peter Pericopes

The St. Peter Pericopes, with its 55 large-format miniatures, contains the largest Christ-cycle of any manuscript from the Middle Ages.

A gorgeous bathing scene illustrates the birth of John the Baptist. In the depiction of the Last Supper, a small devil standing at the mouth of Judas indicates his treachery. And in the miniature of Christ’s birth, an exhausted Joseph sits reflectively with his head in his hands before the manger. The visual adornment of the St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud is anything but typical and offers something to discover on every page of the codex. It is not only the exceptional quality of the illumination, but also and above all else it is the sheer wealth of miniatures that makes the codex something special: the St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud is unquestionably one of the primary works of the 12th century!

Pictorial Decoration of Grandiose Impact

The scene of Jesus' baptism in the river Jordan is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and memorable scenes from the illumination of the Middle Ages. The calm and dignity that the miniature radiates, thanks to its clear composition, has a calming effect on the beholder.

With 55 luminously bright miniatures on golden backgrounds, the St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud presents the richest iconographic program of any high medieval evangeliary. Of the altogether 71 pericopes (excerpts from the Gospels as readings for the Sunday masses and festivals of the liturgical year) that are assembled here, 55 are accompanied by a matching illustration – more than in any comparable manuscript! Additionally, the initial program is also admirable: 81 Initials with figurative content and floral ornamentation adorn the text. An ostentatious decorative page with a historiated initial and the directory of the pericopes in a gorgeous frame of columns wonderfully round out the splendor of the St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud

The Western-Byzantine Miniatures

Architecture and clothing borrowing from the Byzantine style are found in numerous miniatures in the St. Peter Pericopes.

Gorgeous frames surround the impressive, gold-glimmering miniatures of the manuscript. Between strips of gold and silver, these frames are filled with complicated ornaments. The so-called Kufic décor was first used here, among others, which developed from the influences of Arabian textual elements. In the miniatures themselves, a gorgeous palette of vibrant colors, above all green, blue, and a red bordering on magenta, is employed against the precious gold background. The biblical scenes were presented in large-figure representations and in artfully-symmetrical compositions, which only give isolated indications of the landscape of architecture

The Life of the Messiah

The attention to detail in the miniatures, such as a small devil emerging from Judas’ mouth, makes the St. Peter Pericopes a particularly-endearing treasure.

Christ as the Messiah stands in the center of the miniatures that the pericopes introduce. As a result, the biblical aspect of his Passion was completely omitted. The miniatures are not just mere illustrations of the text, but rather deal with them as regards content. The painters of these scenes did some deep thinking about the pictorial program and so it was adorned with numerous cryptic references. Thus, the miniature of Jesus, in which he is depicted as a man rather than as a child, already indicated his role as Messiah to scribes and the educated. Similarly, in the foot washing scene, the perspective of the beholder is concentrated on the heels of the Apostles – the heel already having been identified in the Old Testament as the seat of sin

Gold-Entwined Initials

Not only are the golden miniatures capable of casting their spell on the beholder, the magnificent initials of the St. Peter Pericopes represent a blossoming of high-medieval illumination.

Alongside the 55 mostly full-page miniatures, the initials comprise an important part of the adornment of the pericopes book. The initials are made up of botanical ornaments in gorgeous variations. No gold was spared here as well. Animal and human figures occasionally appear as part of the thoughtful composition. A particularly beautiful example of the exceptional creativity of the illuminators is found in the initial at the beginning of the Gospel of John. Here the “I” of the line In principio erat verbum is depicted in the form of a human figure with the head of an eagle – symbol of John among the Evangelists. With its exuberant visual adornment, the famous St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud presents itself as a highpoint of 12th century illumination and one of the most splendid attestations of the artistry of the Salzburg scriptorium of St. Peter!

The Benedictine Monastery of St. Erentrud

Although the manuscript occupies such an exceptional position within the history of illumination, many fact concerning its origin and history remain in the dark. It is known that the manuscript originated ca. 1150. Today, the evangeliary is stored under the signature Clm 15903 in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. Its likewise-common name – St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud – indicates a storage location of the manuscript: the Benedictine St. Erentrud nunnery on the so-called Nonnberg or “nun mountain” in Salzburg. In folio 104 of the manuscript, one finds a note that indicates that the manuscript found itself in the St. Erentrud by the early 14th century at the latest. Nonetheless, this is not the manuscript’s place of origin. 

The Origins of the Manuscript in Salzburg

The style and a few other details at hand unequivocally indicate that manuscript originated in Salzburg. Thus, St. Rupert has been alluded to, among others. Rupert was not only the founder and first bishop of the Bishopric of Salzburg, but also the founder of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Peter and St. Erentrud. Around the middle of the 12th century, three scriptoria were active in Salzburg: the cathedral’s, the nunnery’s , and St. Peter’s. The pericopes can also be attributed to the last with certainty because of iconographic indicators. The scriptorium of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter developed into a stronghold of quality illumination. An independent style – a combination of Byzantine elements with the typical style of the Salzburg region – was indicative of its works. Explicit stylistic references in the St. Peter Pericopes from St. Erentrud indicating St. Peter’s as its place of origin are found in the Byzantine-like figures with their large eyes in connection with the natural modeling of the bodies, as already appeared in other works from that scriptorium (compare with the Evangeliary of Custos Perhtolt from ca. 1080 or the Admont Bible from the Austrian National Library in Vienna, originating likewise from St. Peter’s scriptorium ca. 1145).