The Psalter of Blanche of Castile is an exquisite Gothic example of Parisian book illumination. The codex, also known as Sainte-Chapelle Psalter, was created in the first quarter of the 13th century and features 27 beautifully illuminated full-page miniatures, 9 historiated initials and 24 calendar medallions.
A Royal Manuscript
Written in Latin, the Psalter of Blanche of Castile was created between 1200 and 1230, however, the identity of the recipient remains in doubt. Some identifications have been proposed, the most popular being that the manuscript was made for Blanche of Castile, Queen of France and mother of Louis IX.
According to this view the lady kneeling in front of the altar on f. 122v. would depict a praying Blanche, uncrowned because she ascended the throne in 1223, after the psalter was finished.
Whether the manuscript was commissioned for Blanche or passed to her at a later time, what is certain is that the creation of this charming psalter was meant as a gift to a noble lady, proved by the opulent use of gold and the title in a prayer on f. 190r. featuring the words miserrimam peccatricem (the most miserable sinner).
A Masterpiece of French Gothic
Almost to remind the reader of the unbelievable windows of French cathedrals, the iconography of the Psalter of Sainte-Chapelle is tremendously detailed featuring countless ornaments and drôleries such as small dragons, dogs, birds and other fantastic creatures, which often romp over the text field on the edge of the folios. The miniatures, with their color and luminosity are a testament to the craftsmanship of artists part of the Paris school.
The Royal Chemise of the Psalter
Since 1335, the Psalter of Blanche of Castile has been preserved in the treasury of the Sainte-Chapelle and brought to the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal only at the end of the 18th century.The importance of this manuscript can be seen in its history and furnishings. In order to protect the cover, one of the few testimonies of Roman book binding still preserved today, a chemise was made by Charles V, a splendid fabric embroidered with golden fleur de lys. In the 19th century, a protective jewelery case was also created for representative storage.
It appears that, at some point, the Psalter of Sainte-Chapelle ended up in the collection of Charles V who, presumably, had a chemise made – splendid fabric embroidered with golden flour de lys – to protect the manuscript. As a result, the cover is one of the few testimonies of Roman book binding still preserved today.