Towards the end of the 12th century, Paris and its outskirts were experiencing a peak in their artistic mastery. Just before the year 1200, during this highly transitional period, scribes and illuminators crafted one of the most compelling and lavish books of the Gothic period: the Ingeborg Psalter. The manuscript takes its name from its first possessor, Ingeborg, the Danish wife of King Philip II Augustus of France, mysteriously disavowed by her husband shortly after their wedding.
The Ingeborg Psalter, a Gothic Picture Book
The Psalter, a collection of 150 Psalms from the Old Testament, begins with an opulently decorated 'Beatus initial', the subsequent text being penned in a luxurious bookish script named "littera psalteralis". This type of illuminated manuscript can be seen as a 'forefather' of the Book of Hours, the private devotional manual which Flemish craftsmen became so well known for during the 14th and 15th centuries. Each Psalm (but also other texts) begins with a decorated initial (some of which depicting the life of King David) whose attention to detail is absolutely incredible.
A Transitional Masterpiece
The Ingeborg Psalter, however, is exceptionally important due to its numerous and unusual illuminations. Their style was completely new at the time they were crafted and would greatly influence subsequent works of illumination in the Gothic period. The Psalter's 27 depictions, many with two scenes superimposed, describe notworthy episodes in the lives of Abraham and Moses. The root of Jesse follows, signalling the transition between the Old and the New Testament. Then, other exquisite illuminations depict scenes inspired by the life of Christ: among them, one can find episodes such as the Annunciation, Pentecost or the Last Judgement, but also illustrations taken from the legend of Theophilus, in which the sinner sells is soul to Satan and is subsequently redeemed by the Virgin Mary.