Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen

The Golden Psalter of St. Gall

A Radiant Masterpiece of the Carolingian Era

The Golden Psalter of St. Gall owes its obvious radiance both to its gold letters in Carolingian minuscule (Psalm titles in capitalis rustica) and to its dignified narrative miniatures. The Golden Psalter is a magnificent psalter with an imposing format of ca. 37 x 28 cm. 172 folios of sheepskin parchment contain the Psalms of the Old Testament, which are still the foundation of the Book of Hours today. Produced more than 1,100 years ago, around 870–900, presumably begun in present-day France and certainly completed in the St. Gall Monastery, the Golden Psalter is a very special treasure of a book in Switzerland. This rare document of Carolingian manuscript illumination has been preserved in St. Gall ever since its completion.


The “Psalterium aureum” of St. Gall: The Manuscript


Carolingian Minuscule in Gold

The Psalterium aureum of St. Gall presents the Psalms – apart from their titles – in Carolingian minuscule: unconnected, regularly formed lowercase letters. Carolingian minuscule emerged as a very legible script around 800 and spread throughout Europe during the reign of Charlemagne. We now know that this manuscript was initially written using brass ink, which could imitate gold. The text was later completely redrawn with gold by illuminators in St. Gall. The Psalter first become an exemplar of the art of the book in St. Gall around 870/80, when the still-unbound folios arrived at the monastery on the Steinach River, and work began to add the missing texts and images and to revise the original in several places.

Produced in the Circle of Louis the German?

Louis II of Germany (b. ca. 806; d. 876) of the Carolingian dynasty, a grandchild of Charlemagne, has also been considered by scholars. He was King of East Francia from 843 to 876. Attempts to conquer the West Frankish empire of his half-brother Charles the Bald remained unsuccessful. Was the Golden Psalter produced in the circle of Louis the German? The Psalter was probably begun in Soissons and was doubtless completed in St. Gall. Its elaborate design indicate that this liturgical book was not for daily use but rather for important feast days or for presentation to prominent visitors. Was the Psalter perhaps intended to impress and please royal guests?

A Gold Treasure of the Abbey Library of St. Gall

The Carolingian Psalter of St. Gall is truly a gold treasure in the collection of the Abbey Library of St. Gall. Preserved in protection in the vault, and accessible only to a few scholars for rare viewings, this illuminated manuscript is now available to scholars and collectors as a facsimile. From the ninth to the eleventh century, what is now the Abbey Library housed one of the finest scriptoria in Europe. Anyone who visits the Baroque library will linger, overpowered by its splendour and in awe of the achievements of our ancestors. As one of the most important cultural centres in Europe, the Abbey of St. Gall was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site as early as 1983.
Stiftsibliothek St. Gallen


Under the Magnifying Glass: David’s Horsemen in Frankish Clothing

The protagonist of the miniatures the Golden Psalter of St. Gall  s David, King of the Israelites and primary author of the Psalms. David is a ruler; his anointing and his persecution are illustrated. The very first image shows a crowned David seated on a throne, surrounded by musicians and dancers.
Under the command of Joab – David’s nephew – the army of Israel went to war on David’s orders, and the troops of the Israelites occupied and pillaged Soba in Syria (pp. 139–141). One would expect different images in a psalter intended for a monastery: images of religious subjects, emphasising the connection between the Psalms and Christ.
The artists of the Golden Psalter of St. Gall had internalised the painting of Late Antiquity. With the miniatures of this manuscript, however, they achieved an artistic pinnacle of late Carolingian school of painting. The gestures and facial expressions bring the two-dimensional figures to life. An element of artistic expression that will later become characteristic of Ottonian art is already evident here.
The two-zoned image of the march of David’s horsemen against the Syrians is also impressive for its evident contemporaneous colour. The depictions of Frankish clothing thrill the historian and transport us to the world of the Early Middle Ages.


The Golden Psalter of St. Gall: The Edition

Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen, geschlossen und offen

The Manuscript and the Facsimile at a Glance

Manuscript: Abbey Library of St. Gall, Cod. Sang. 22
Date of Origin: 870-900
Place of Origin: Francia (Soissons?) and the St. Gall Monastery
Format: 37 x 28 cm
Extent: 344 pages (172 folios)
Artists: West Frankish manuscript illuminators and scribes, St. Gall Scriptorium

Patron: Presumably from the circle of Louis the German, King of East Francia (r. 843 to 876).
Illumination: The gold lettering, the many gold decorative initials, and the 17 expressive miniatures on 344 pages have been faithfully reproduced in the facsimile edition.
Binding: Faithfully to the original, the facsimile is bound in red leather with wooden covers. Because the originally badly damaged by rubbing, the precious pages inside are protected by an undamaged binding. Brass buttons and a brass clasp decorate the binding like the original. The headband is handsewn.
Volume for the Facsimile Edition: Prof. Dr. David Ganz (Universität Zürich), Dr. Thomas Rainer (Universität Zürich) and the team of authors from the Abbey Library of St. Gall – Dr. Ulrike Ganz, Dr. Ursula Kundert and Dr. Philipp Lenz – are specialists for this fascinating art of the Carolingian era. In chapters that make for fascinating reading, the authors introduce us to an illuminated manuscript more than 1,100 years old. The facsimile and commentary volume are protected by a handmade slipcase.
Print Run: 480 copies

The facsimile edition is being published in May 2024.


Several Pages for Viewing:

A Glance at the Golden Psalter

The excerpt for perusal chosen from the Golden Psalter of St. Gall comprises pp. 140–152. It reveals from this treasury of Psalms a beautiful interplay of minuscules, initials, and miniatures.
p. 141: Illustration for Ps 59/60. Storming of the city of Edom and pillage by horsemen and foot soldiers; below: presumably, the handing of the city to Joab and his horseman.
p. 147: Illustration for Ps 62. David in desert of Edom (with grass and trees). The people are wearing Frankish clothing.
p. 150: Illustration for Ps 64 and figures of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in front of a closed gate in the form of a rectangular frame with an inscribed cross.
p. 151 Initials, lettering in gold, on a square, purple ground.

Im Moment leider nicht verfügbar.


A Challenging Production: fac simile

Brass Ink, Gold and Patina

The Golden Psalter was originally executed in brass ink, but the early entries were later painted over with gold by monks in St. Gall. This lent a special character to the gold. More than 1,100 years have also left their traces on the gold. Some places still gleam, while others are rather dull. Sometimes it is yellowish, but it is greenish in some places. The gold lithographer had to work out all these differences and realize them with the patina, which is printed over the gold leaf.

Purple Finery

Writing and pen drawings (in purple, purplish-brown or bright sepia, embellished with minium, green, purplish-brown, blue and gold) supplement each other perfectly in the St. Gall Psalter. Purple, which is still the most expensive pigment today, is the theme of an entire chapter in the commentary volume. The shades of minium also represented a challenge. The tiniest deviations in colour result in a different impression. Special treatment of the paper by hand makes it wavy and matte like parchment.

The Art of Lithographers

The colours of Codex Sangallensis 22 are opaque paints of pigments and fillers. The most delicate corrections are necessary to produce the shades as faithfully to the original as possible. Lithographers compare the pages in situ in the Abbey Library of St. Gall and meticulously note any corrections needed. The sheet for the facsimile folder is printed on the same paper that will be used for the edition.

Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen
Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen


The Facsimile Folder for the Edition

The facsimile folder introduces you to the power of images from the Carolingian era. The world of colours and images of this manuscript more than 1,100 years old will astonish you. The consistent use of gold awes viewers as its splendour unfolds. In the text booklet you will follow the author’s path as he traces the origins of the manuscript to the circle of Louis the German.

The handmade, clothbound facsimile folder with a format of 39 x 29 cm contains an original facsimile sheet (pp. 135–138), along with an essay by one of the authors of the commentary volume, Prof. Dr. David Ganz. The original facsimile sheet is inserted loose in the folder for easy removal.

Goldener Psalter von St. Gallen

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