An outstanding testimony to manuscript culture in Lower Saxonyat the time of the Emperor Henry II (1002-1024)
2 Psalter, so-called BernwardpsalterIlluminated manuscript on vellum. Germany, Hildesheim, c. 1020.
255 x 216 mm. 141 vellum leaves, 3 paper leaves at the beginning and 11 at the end. Exact collation of manuscript impossible, 3 illuminated pages missing (introducing psalms 1, 51 and 101). – Written space c. 195 x 145 mm (considerable range of variation in height from 187-206 mm), 23 lines to the page. Carolingian minuscule of varying size written in black ink, rubrics and versals in red, highlighting of first line: littera capitalis in red, green and silver. 14 initials in green, blue, silver and gold. – fol. 141 half of the page missing. Later additions and glosses of the 12th and 13th centuries by five different hands. Silver oxidized. – Modern blind-stamped leather binding with two clasps. Rebound in 1615 on commission of Johann Jacke, abbot of St Michael, see note on fol. 3v.
PROVENANCE: 1. Bernward, bishop of Hildesheim (993-1022) commissioned the psalter on the occasion of the foundation of the onastery of St Michael. 2. Note of the 18th century:“Legat von Herrn Vicar Bispinck”. 3. In the family of the counts of Landsberg-Velen and Gemen,
Borken/Westphalia; several stamps “Landsbergsches Archiv. Gemen/Westfalen”.
TEXT:fol. 4: Oratio ante psalterium presulis Bernwardi. Suscipere digneris. – fol. 5: Psalter (iuxta LXX), lacks the beginning. Text starts with Ps 2,8 – fol. 110v: canticles – fol. 120: Athanasian Creed and prayers – fol. 125: litany – fol. 131: prayers for Easter Sunday and Trinity – fol. 141: register of relics of the monastery St Michael in Hildesheim: “Iste sunt reliquie quas dominus Ricbertus contulit...” (added in the 12th century). Bernward of Hildesheim (c. 960-1022, bishop from 993, canonized in 1192) was one of the most influential bishops of the Ottonian period. Scribe and Chronicler to Otto II, on the Emperor’s death in 983 he was commissioned by the empress Theophanu to undertake the education of the infant Otto III and was elected a member of the imperial chapel. As a member of the inner circle of the imperial court, he travelled throughout France and Italy, until appointed bishop of Hildesheim by Willigis, archbishop of Mainz, in 993. The precious objects commissioned by Bernward, spanning the arts from manuscript illumination to architecture, made Hildesheim one of the principal centres of European culture. Today Bernward is particularly celebrated for the foundation of the monastery of St Michael, whose crypt houses his sarcophagus and whose bronze doors and column, outstanding examples of monumental bronze casting, are now at the cathedral, but he is also remembered for the Ringelheim Crucifix, gold- and silversmith’s work and not least for luxurious manuscripts. The inscriptions on his
numerous gifts conferred on the bishop a certain Romantic aura, such that he was sometimes seen not merely as the patron but also as the author of at least some of these artefacts. However, in all likelihood his share in their production was solely intellectual, in that he provided the artists with ideas and inspirations from his various journeys. Thus the formulation fecit (he made), which appears on numerous objects should rather be read as ‘fecit fieri’ (he commissioned) (cf. Schuffels 1993, p. 39). His scriptorium, which had no long tradition of its own, likewise profited greatly from the codices Bernward brought back from his journeys, and in its work we find numerous examples of adaptations from other famous manuscripts of the time. In the person of the deacon Guntbald, the bishop moreover managed to acquire for his scriptorium a scribe who had received his training in Regensburg. This psalter is written by Guntbald in a Carolingian minuscule. Just as in the luxurious manuscripts from the Regensburg scriptorium, inclined oval individual letters, which at regular intervals counterpoint the cursive script, impart a certain dynamism to the text. Guntbald participated in two more manuscript commissions by Bernward for the Benedictine abbey of St Michael: the Sacramentary, dated c. 1014, and the Gospels (Hildesheim, Domschatz, DS 19 and 33). The Gospels in Nuremberg (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, hs. 29770) show Guntbald collaborating with the scriptorium of Halberstatt. The decorative initials comprise golden letters with red contours inside and out. Brackets painted in silver provide variety. The letters are filled with silver tendrils, whose pointed ends, framed by two small roundels, resemble trefoils. The entrelac of the rather fleshy tendrils sometimes envelops
the initials but rarely stretches any further. The backgrounds are coloured in light blue, an intense green or a light purple, or else left neutral. As these characteristics are common to all four manuscripts written by Guntbald,we may suppose that he was likewise responsible for the decorative initials (Schuffels 1986, p. 287). During the High and Late Middle Ages the psalter was regarded an autograph work of Bernward’s (cf. entries on fol. 4, 140v and 141) and was therefore held in very high esteem. Even when it was rebound in the 17th century this conviction still prevailed (cf. note on fol. 3v). For a long time, this view was believed to be justified because Bernward himself was known to have inscribed some, but not all, of his donations with his own name and that of St Michael (as, for example, in the Guntbald Gospels).Thus, the present manuscript, although not marked with such dedicatory words, was given an aura of sanctity, which would make its destruction a sacrilegious act. As a result, the psalter has survived to the present day.
LITERATURE: Schuffels in: Hoffmann 1986, pp. 39, 297- 298; Schuffels in: exh. cat. Hildesheim 1993, pp. 566-568 (no.VIII-28).
Exh. cat. Hildesheim 1993.