Breslau Psalter

MS 36-1950 - Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Alternate Titles:

Der Breslauer Psalter

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Der Breslauer Psalter

Type
Extent / Format

294 pages / 32.6 × 22.7 cm

Origin
Date
1255 - 1267
Style
Genre
Content

Psalter; Canticles, Te Deum, Quicumque vult and litany with collects

Language
Patron

Anna of Bohemia (1204-1268), widow of Henry II, Duke of Silesia

Artist / School

Master of Giovanni da Gaibana; Italian-Byzantine Art

Illustrations

28 full-page framed miniatures, 36 calendar medallions, 10 historiated initials on gold grounds, 168 framed smaler miniatures

Script

Gothic textualis

Short description

The Breslau Psalter fascinates its beholders with the extravagance of its design and with the clash of various influences from European illumination. The splendid manuscript originated between 1255 and 1267 in western Poland and assembles 28 full-page miniatures, 168 marginal miniatures, 36 calendar medallions, 10 decorated initial pages, as well as numerous ornaments and figurative scenes in the margins of its 294 pages. While German scribes were responsible for the text of the 150 Psalms and Old Testament hymns, Giovanni di Gaibana, an illuminator originating from Padua, assumed the supervision of the painters. An entire team of Silesian artists worked under him, conjuring up the great wealth of depictions according to his specifications. It was only in this manner that such fanciful architectures with eastern cupolas and an occidental repertoire of forms could come to be.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Breslau Psalter

In the unique Breslau Psalter various influences of European illumination come alive in a most impressive way. Originating in Breslau between 1255 and 1267, the manuscript was furnished by at least seven Silesian artists, who worked under the direction of the Italian Giovanni di Gaibana. Altogether, they conjured up 28 full-page miniatures, 168 marginal miniatures, 36 calendar medallions, 10 decorated initial pages, as well as numerous ornaments and figurative scenes in the margins.

An Example of European Illumination

The Breslau Psalter is an outstanding example for the cultural exchange between East and West, North and South. While German scribes were responsible for the text of the Psalms and Old Testament hymns, Giovanni di Gaibana, an illuminator originating from Padua, was the primary master of the miniatures. An entire team of Silesian painters worked under him, who supported him with the creation of a great number of illustrations. It was only in this manner that such a visual world could come to be, which connects the shimmering gold background and eastern cupolas with the occidental repertoire of forms.

A Great Wealth of Adornment

Each of the Psalms and hymns is furnished with its own picture, the result of which is that space for up to three depictions sometimes had to be found on a page. This high density of miniatures is even more astounding when one looks at them more closely and discovers the comprehensive visual language and the great diversity of motifs. Thus, the figures do not find themselves in front of a shimmering gold background, but rather before fanciful architectures with pointed arches, Gothic trefoils and quatrefoils and delicate columns. The design of the faces and the various poses are particularly individualized. Emotions such a grief and sympathy can be clearly recognized from the interplay between gestures and facial expressions.

A Bohemian Duchess as Patron

Judging by the accentuation of the Bohemian saints in the calendar of the Psalter and the feminine forms of the prayers it can be assumed that Anna of Bohemia (1204-1268) was the patron of the marvelous manuscript. She was the widow of Henry II, Duke of Silesia (1196/1204-1241) and founded the Krzeszów Abbey in 1242 with their son Boleslaw II.

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