Only a small number of manuscripts stand out among the best codices of the medieval era, one of them being the Berthold Sacramentary. Commissioned by Abbot Berthold, possibly just after the 1215 fire that severely damaged the monastery library, the Sacramentary is a true gem of the late Romanesque period.
The Berthold Sacramentary: an Astounding Wealth of Illuminations
The Berthold Sacramentary's 165 parchment folios include an astounding wealth of illuminations: twenty-one full-page depictions, seven historical-themed illustrations, six full-length, twelve half-length and fifty-two smaller decorative initials, eighteen figural initials, and twelve calendar plates.
Not only are these miniatures numerous, but their quality and craftsmanship is also truly unparalleled. The artist who painted them, who is anonymous and was named by scholars 'The Berthold master,' was decidedly ahead of his time: his miniatures display strong and dramatic narrative depictions, new plasticity achieved by 'playing' with color, and great artistic mastery.
Precious Gold and Silver in an Incredible Decorative Cycle
Each illumination, but also many of the initials, are set against gold and silver backgrounds, something that boosts the brightness of the colors used by the artist. Nevertheless, such opulent use of gold and silver is not the only amazing feature of the decoration of the Berthold Sacramentary: the manuscript is further enriched by thirty-two miniatures and initials on burnished golden backgrounds.
Also, six depictions bear golden backgrounds that were also decorated with elevated relief, an incredibly difficut technique. The Berthold master used such luxurious technique when he illustrated the main feast days in the Church year. The book's text was penned by three different scribes, their calligraphic mastery fitting the absolute perfection of the decorative cycle.