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Medieval Manuscript Leaves: Psalter and Prayerbook, Northern Germany, circa 1524

This guide provides information about the eight Medieval Manuscript Leaves held by NIU Libraries Rare Book Room.

Catalogue Description

92. FINE LEAVES WITH HISTORIATED INITIALS AND INHABITED BORDERS, FROM A PSALTER AND PRAYER BOOK IN LATIN. (Northern Germany, perhaps Hildesheim, 1524) 6 1/2 x 5 1/4". Single column, from 20-24 lines, in a compressed chiseled calligraphic batarde hand. At least one three-line initial in brushed gold on a blue or brown ground (most leaves with more than one, as well as with a number of similar one-line initials), and a few leaves with very appealing large (often five- to seven-line) modelled initials on a delicately tooled burnished gold ground; EVERY LEAF WITH A FULL BRUSHED GOLD BORDER ON BOTH SIDES WITH STYLIZED PLANTS AND FLOWERS, USUALLY WITH AT LEAST ONE ANIMAL, AND OFTEN WITH INTRIGUING HUMAN FIGURES (see below).

Sometimes one border (usually the top) trimmed close and occasionally just cut into, infrequent minor loss of paint, but GENERALLY IN VERY FINE, FRESH CONDITION, the gilt and paint still quite bright. 

These leaves come from an unusual German Renaissance manuscript containing a composite text for use as Mass and other services, with the Hours of the Passion, a ferial psalter, Psalms for use at Vespers, the Office of the Conception of Mary, and miscellaneous prayers to the Virgin. Dated 1524 in two places, this highly personalized manuscript bore the arms of Mansfeld (we have the leaf on which it appears), a prominent family from northern German, and it may have been executed for Albert, count of Mansfeld (1480-1560). The fact that it contained a miniature of St. Godehard, bishop of Hildesheim (d. 1038, see below), suggests that it may have been produced at that location, an important bishopric and center of artistic activity at the time. Subsequently, the manuscript belonged to the Comte d'Aspremont-Lynden. It was sold at Sotheby's as lot #100 on 23 June 1987 and was afterwards broken up. The borders here are the source of considerable charm, containing carnations, thistles, roses, daisies, violets, peas, melons, squash, strawberries, grapes, insects, young and mature deer, squirrels, and many birds (frequently small birds, but also a stork, a peacock, and a pheasant). In addition to the usual plants and birds, a number of borders contain special images of animals, including one with a throned pig chastising a frightened goose, a donkey weighed down by a big bag, and a wolf(?) attacking a rabbit. Many borders contain clothed and unclothed cherubs (often interacting with the vegetation, but one holding the flapping wings of a bird, another drinking form a green bottle, two in playful wrestling, another walking on stilts, another shooting an arrow at a bird, and so on). Peopled borders include those containing a jester, a musician with a harp, and peasants involved in various activities: carrying a heavy sack, beating a rearing donkey, carrying a jug (of urine?), and trapping an animal in a net. Of very special interest are three leaves containing (1) an historiated initial enclosing St. Anthony on one side and St. Matthias on the other, (2) an historiated initial showing St. Godehard of Hildesheim in full bishop's finer, and (3) a representation of an indolent resident of the "World of Cokayne," an image derived ultimately from Sebastian Brant's "Ship of Fools" and more directly from Bruegel's painting, "Das Schlaraffenland," where one is treated to limitless and nearly effortless self-indulgence (on our leaf, a nobleman, a spoon already in his mouth, sits with his crossbow drawn, about to shoot an empty spoon into a pan of porridge at the same time that four full spoons are flying back to him of their own accord). For a later addition to this manuscript, see item #106, below. 

Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts. “92. FINE LEAVES WITH HISTORIATED INITIALS AND INHABITED BORDERS, FROM A PSALTER AND PRAYER BOOK IN LATIN. ” Phillip J. Pirages Catalogue 47, 1992.

Psalter and Prayerbook, Northern Germany, circa 1524


This leaf is from Northern Germany, possibly Hildesheim, from around 1524 and is from a Psalter and Prayerbook in Latin, with a gold leaf border. A Psalter is a book of Psalms, and could have been used by members of the clergy or lay people ( 8).

three pages of same manuscript leaves at Cleveland Museum of Art

Catalogue also describes this manuscript


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