MINIATURIST, French
(active 820-830 in Reims)

Utrecht Psalter

820s
Manuscript (Ms. Bibl. Rhenotraiectinae I Nr 32), 330 x 256 mm
Universiteitsbibliotheek, Utrecht

The Utrecht Psalter was made in 820-830, in Reims or in the nearby abbey of Hautvilliers, and was perhaps commissioned by archbishop Ebbo. It may have been a gift for Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious, his wife Judith, or else their newborn son, the later emperor Charles the Bald. Specialists point to the late Roman iconography and the use of the late Roman capitalis rustica as script to show that the illustrations are (partly) based on one or more models from the 5th century.

The codex contains the psalter (150 psalms), 16 canticles (hymns from the Old and New Testaments, and the Apostles' Creed. Its unique appearance is due to its total absence of colour. 166 pen and ink drawings illustrates the texts; they are in dark brown ink and follow the texts in highly literal fashion. It is assumed that the psalter served as an aid to young monks in learning the psalms by heart together.

The Utrecht Psalter is one of the most classical looking of all Carolingian manuscripts, written in rustic capitals and illustrated throughout with frenzied sketches, full of motion and life, like ancient Roman wall paintings.

The picture shows folio 25r with scenes relating to Psalms 42 and 43. At top left, before a simplified, almost abstractly sketched rocky landscape are the enemies of the psalmist. The female figure almost at the centre of the picture personifies Veritas, the Truth, who is to lead the psalmist into the House of God. The drawing under the three-column text illustrates the prayer of the righteous warriors and of the people prostrated before the temple and the altar, pleading for help in the face of the approaching enemy.

The principal master of the Utrecht codex ranks among the most important graphic artists of all occidental art.