Only a small number of manuscripts is able to stand out among the best codices of the Medieval era: one is undoubtedly the Berthold Sacramentary. Commissioned by Abbot Berthold, possibly just after the 1215 fire that badly 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: 21 full-page depictions, 7 historical-themed illustrations, 6 full-length, 12 half-length and 52 smaller decorative initials, 18 figural initials and 12 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 an endless 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 the artist used. Nevertheless, such opulent use of gold and silver is not the only amazing feature of the decoration contained in the Berthold Sacramentary: the manuscript is further enriched by 32 miniatures and initials on burnished golden backgrounds.
Also, six depictions bear golden backgrounds that were also decorated with elevated relief, a technique that was incredibly difficult indeed. 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. All of these features make the Berthold Sacramentary an incredible one-of-a-kind in the history of book illumination.