The Antiphonary of Saint Peter in Salzburg is a work of art of such high rank that only very few other liturgical books equal it. It was used for almost 800 years in Saint Peter’s Abbey for Masses on solemn occasions, and kept in the library or the treasury of the monastery for the rest of the year.
In addition, the Antiphonary constitutes one of the most impressive manuscripts of the 12th century, both in terms of size and volume, with a total of 846 pages and a format of 433 x 310 mm. As it was not only destined for practical use alone but also for solemn representation, its decorative apparatus outshines all other achievements of illumination from this period.
Colourful miniatures on golden grounds as well as ornamental pages with luxurious golden initials on purple grounds illustrate the liturgical text. Twelve richly embellished calendar pages, two Easter tables, and pen drawings on green and blue grounds, adorn the manuscript, much like the more than 400 decorated initials mostly containing motives of flora and fauna.
The decorative apparatus
Six full-page and two half-page miniatures form the most luxurious and elaborate portion of the Antiphonary’s decorative apparatus. They are executed in opaque colour painting and framed with colourful ornamental borders. The figures are painted in warm colours on delicately shimmering golden backgrounds made from pulverised gold which, imitating the Byzantine method, was applied with a brush on a thin glue colour ground.
A further highlight are the eight ornamental pages showing elaborate luxurious full-length initials on purple grounds. The letters are frequently formed of gold and silver interlace and ornate with coloured flowers. They are occasionally enlivened with animals and human figures.
Pen drawings on coloured grounds
The Antiphonary also deserves special attention for its well-balanced combination of opaque colour paintings and pen drawings. An essential technical feature of the 49 pen drawings is the use of two coloured inks corresponding to the two inks mainly used for the written text. They all stand out against blue and green backgrounds, which confers on the drawings their graphically coherent form.
Numerous initials enliven the text
Over 400 decorated initials painted before green and blue grounds enrich the book with great variety and imagination. The modesty of the backgrounds enhance their delicateness and makes them fit into the overall impression of the written page. Vines, foliage and flowers adorn the letters and occasionally, naturalistically drawn animals nesting in intertwined vines are to be observed.
The twelve calendar pages are also richly embellished, each showing two busts of saints and a zodiac. The texts on each page are introduced by two hexameters the contents of which appears just as enigmatic to the reader as the numbers and letters on the left margin of the page. In order to understand the meaning of these columns of numbers and letters, one would have to master the art of ”computing” which even in the Middle Ages was not widespread, i.e. the calculation of the date of Easter based on the position of the moon. The two Easter tables following the calendar pages were included for this purpose.
The Antiphonary of Saint Peter is the work of several hands and is written in a very beautiful and even Romanesque book script. The diverse scribes all belong to the same school and show only little difference in some details. A major portion of the text is accompanied by Neumes of the Saint Gall type annotated above the lines.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Antiphonary of St. Peter": Das Antiphonar von St. Peter facsimile edition, published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1969