The Landgrave Psalter is one of the masterpieces of early Gothic illumination. Preserved since the early 19th century by the Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, its name derives from the nobleman who commissioned it, Landgrave Herman I of Thuringia and Hesse, who is often cited in the book, especially among the litanies and intercessory prayers. The depictions of Herman and of his second wife Sophie of Wittelsbach take up a large portion of the 'gallery of portraits' that accompany the Litany.
The Landgrave Psalter: a Book Fit for a King
Herman of Thuringia (r. 1190–1217) is often deemed to have been a heartless leader, but also a magnanimous supporter of arts and sciences. A deeply learned man, his court at Eisenach was a gathering point for artists and scholars. The distinctive role Landgrave Herman played during his lifetime is underlined by this Psalter, which can be referred to as a downright masterpiece, both from an artistic and a technical viewpoint.
Lavish and Exceptional Illuminations and Initials
The text's mise en page and layout are fully compliant with the usual structure of Psalter manuscripts. The main part – the Psalterium Gallicanum – is followed by a Calendar, Canticles, the Litanies of Saints, and an Office of the Dead. The Landgrave Psalter's pages are either decorated with full-page miniatures or with amazing chapter headings. Each majuscule initial is painted gold and further embellished by means of blue foliage motifs. Various Psalms also bear skilfully executed interlaced initials, some of which even occupy half page. Each of them features unique decorations that in many cases do not seem to have been modeled on pre-existing material.
A Rare 'Real Life' Calendar
The manuscript's Calendar is as exceptional as the illuminations themselves. Each month occupies a single page, while the list of days is flanked by a portrait of an Apostle who is seen as the patron saint of that particular part of the year. Above the portraits, 'real-life scenes' of farmers and fields aid the reader in identifying the month in question. The artfully penned characters, their different color shades and tone nuances, but also the opulent use of gold, are all features that make the illustrative cycle of the Landgrave Psalter an ostentatious exercise in book decoration.