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The St. Peter Pericopes

A masterpiece of Romanesque illumination, formerly in the holdings of St Erentrud in Salzburg

Bavarian State Library, St. Peter/Salzburg, around 1150


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55 colourful miniatures on golden grounds – and thus the wealthiest picture cycle ever seen in a high-medieval Gospel manuscript to date – plus eighty-one initials in gold, mostly anthropomorphic in character, set among colourful blossoms and scrollwork: these are the main features of decoration in the St Peter Pericopes. Dating from the mid-12th century, the volume is now in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek of Munich (shelf mark CLM 15903).

In scholarly literature, the volume is widely referred to as the “Book of Pericopes from St Erentrud” a name that goes back to the Benedictine convent of St Erentrud on the Salzburg Nonnberg. An annotation from the late 13th or early 14th century on f. 104v confirms that the volume was kept in the holdings of this convent from this point on at the latest. Nevertheless, St Erentrud is neither the place where the Pericopes were made nor of their destination. A Salzburgian provenance has however been established for the book, not only on textual grounds, such as the reference to St Rupert in a number of instances; St Rupert not only founded the metropolitan see of Salzburg and also served as the first bishop there, but is also venerated as the founder of two Benedictine abbeys, St Peter and St Erentrud. The origin from an Austrian scriptorium may also be inferred from its art historic features, since the codex is closely related to a number of other manuscripts that are thought to be originating from Salzburg. Out of the three scriptoria active in Salzburg around the 1150s (the scriptoria of the bishop's church, of the Petersfrauen and of St Peter), only one is considered to be relevant for the provenance of the Pericopes, based on stylistic, iconographic and textual grounds, namely the scriptorium of St Peter.


The book type known as Gospel Pericopes (or Pericope Sections) contains those excerpts from the gospels that were selected to be read on certain Sundays and feast days of the ecclesiastical year. Out of the seventy-one gospel extracts in the volume, no less than fifty-five are introduced by their own dedicated miniature. The purpose of these miniatures goes well beyond a mere illustration of the text, or a simple repetition of themes using visual means; rather is the narrative horizon additionally widened and interpreted by this imagery. This is perhaps best exemplified in the miniature of "Jesus among the doctors": it shows the 12 year-old boy as a bearded adult man. This trick helped the artist to overcome the space/time continuum and to reveal the future role of Christ as the saviour of mankind. Similar pictorial solutions are found all over the manuscript. They are part of the overall textual concept, invented to present Christ as the Lord's Anointed, the Redeemer and Messiah.


The 106 folios in the St Peter Pericopes display an iconographic and decorative wealth that is truly second to none, both in terms of quality and of quantity. Out of the miniatures preceding the Christmas and Easter readings – the healing and resurrection miracles of Christ, the Marian and saints' feasts, and the feasts of the Invention and the Veneration of the Cross – more than half extend over a full page. The wide rectangular frames with ornamented central panels flanked by golden and silver mouldings surround the biblical scenes in the manner of panel paintings. Precious gold leaf was used for the background foil in the larger figural scenes, created with intense, though off-colour opaque paints. Some architectural elements and landscape features are supplied for better orientation. Graceful figures dominate the symmetric structure of the pictures. Their lively mimicry and gazes from wide-open eyes symbolize the relationship between them and thus convey the narrative contents of the picture and its emotional expression at the same time. The combination of stylistic principles from Byzantine art and themes from Western models, as well as the practice of modelling bodies by colour shading, bears evidence to the close relationship between our manuscript and earlier works from the scriptorium of St Peter. This relationship is, inter alia, particularly evident in the elaborate initial decoration. Each pericope section begins with an initial that either appears as a singular letter, perhaps also as part of a group, or in the form of a ligature made up of the two letters introducing the incipit and the gospel excerpt itself. The gilded body of the letter is surrounded by spiralling scrollwork, terminating in colourful buds and flower heads. In countless variations, the elements of the letter are replaced by mostly zoomorphic grotesques, thus lending the manuscript an amusing touch.


Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, BSB Clm 15903 Made ca. 1150 in St Peter, Salzburg 106 folios with 55 miniature paintings (33 of which full-page compositions), 6 pages with a listing of the 71 pericope sections, 1 full-page initial, 81 anthropomorphic and scrollwork initials. The illumination is painted in body colours and silver on a golden ground. Script: a rounded, large-sized minuscule script Format: 220 x 310 mm Binding: Renaissance binding from the 2nd half of the 16th century, tooled with an ornamented roll and fillet border, 2 metal clasps


The facsimile edition of the St Peter Pericopes is published as vol. CXXII of the "Codices selecti" series and reproduces the manuscript in original format, in true-to-the original colouring, down to the minutest detail. Binding: Copy of the current original binding from the 16th century: leather cover with a reproduction of the original tooling. Hand-sewn on four genuine raised cords, hand-stitched head and tail bands, metal clasps. The commentary to the facsimile edition was authored by Martina Pippal, Austria’s most expert specialist in Romanesque manuscript art. In addition to an in-depth art historic analysis, the author mainly focuses on the relationship between pictures and text and on the environment in which the book was made, both in terms of history and the history of ideas.

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