A Psalter is a songbook from the Bible (Old Testament). Christians and Jews used it and still use it in their prayers and at their services. The Utrecht Psalter is world-famous for its spectacular illustrations. This masterpiece was produced around 830 in or near the French city of Reims and after many journeys arrived in Utrecht in 1716.
Why is it a current topic now?
The Utrecht Psalter has been nominated for UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register. In 2015 the organisation will decide if the medieval manuscript will deserve a place on this register for documentary heritance. The prestigious register includes the Gutenberg Bible and the negative films of The Wizard of Oz. Well-known Dutch pieces are Anne Frank’s diaries and the archives of the VOC (The Dutch East Indian Company).
Introduction to the Utrecht Psalter
The Utrecht Psalter is the most valuable manuscript housed in a Dutch collection. No other medieval manuscript in Dutch hands has been written about so often or has seen so many reproductions. In the songbook each of the 150 psalms and 16 Biblical songs and prayers have been illustrated in an exceptional way. The manuscript reads like a comic book in which parts of the text are depicted above the psalm.
The surrealistic and dynamic style of the drawings in the Utrecht Psalter was innovative. It is remarkable that a team of as many as six different draughtsmen worked on the illustrations. Here and there the drawings are reminiscent of the work of Jeroen Bosch. The style and the illustrations were to be imitated for centuries in France and England. So it may be safely said that the book was a real trendsetter.
How did it arrive in Utrecht?
Probably the Utrecht Psalter was commissioned by Archbishop Ebbo of Reims (816-835). Possibly it was a gift for the newborn grandson of Charles the Great. After many travels in England the book came into the hands of Utrecht citizen Willem de Ridder who donated it to the University Library which was then housed in St. John’s church. That is why it is called the Utrecht Psalter.
A new presentation
With the support of Utrecht University alumni the manuscript was digitized again in 2013.