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The Drogo Sacramentary
One of the most perfect Carolinian manuscripts
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Ms. lat. 9428, Metz, around 850


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Among the treasures of the Bibliothèque Nationale is a manuscript constituting one of the finest monuments of Carolingian book illumination. It is a Sacramentary written and painted for Bishop Drogo’s personal use (823–855) and it has become a true monument to his name.
Drogo, the illegitimate son of Charlemagne, was one of the greatest patrons of the arts in the 9th century. His fame as a great lover of the arts is not least based on the fact that he embellished his cathedral in Metz with the most sumptuous works which, in terms of beauty and preciousness, rank among the highlights of Carolingian art. Among them are three manuscripts, of which the Drogo Sacramentary is the latest and also most mature and most accomplished example.

An exquisite work of art

Drogo’s Sacramentary is of a very personal character and was obviously produced outside a monastic scriptorium, much unlike many other manuscripts made for export or for practical use in a religious institution. On the contrary, this work of art clearly is the production of a court school. The Sacramentary reflects the individual, highly educated character of its commissioner who hired artists and scribes to satisfy his own artistic ambitions.
The manuscript was the result of teamwork between no more than two or three artists who united ornament, figurative portrayal and diverse types of script in a holistic composition, which still impresses us today with its uniquely beautiful and clear grading of the text.

The initials

The ornamental decoration of the Sacramentary boasts richly embellished initials in correlation with the text. When simply decorated, they consist of golden foliage and rinceaux winding around the body of the letter. The larger letters and sumptuous initial pages, however, are in direct reference to the contents of the text they precede. They depict incidents in the lives of Christ and the Saints and are elaborately ornate with classical forms, such as vines, architectural elements and playing Eroses.
In close relation with these initials are the ivory reliefs on the binding which protects the original manuscript and is reproduced in the commentary volume of the facsimile edition. They repeat some of the scenes shown in the miniatures, including the same architecture and some persons in the same posture, wearing the same clothing.

An important work of iconography

Of particular importance for the history of illumination and especially for iconography is the Palm Sunday initial depicting the Crucifixion (fol. 43v). This is the earliest example of a Crucifixion with a number of accompanying figures in Carolingian illumination. For the first time ever, two allegorical figures, representing the New and the Old Testaments, appear under the Cross. What strikes us here is that the Jewish religion is not shown in a depreciative manner as is often subsequently the case. On the contrary, the old man representing the Jewish religion relates positively to the scene, indicating the fulfilment of the Prophet’s word and his triumph over death, while Ecclesia as the allegory of the Christian Church collects the blood flowing from the wound in Christ’s side in a chalice.
The chalice shown here for the first time as Ecclesia’s attribute goes back to purely Christian sources, whereas the hasta signifera, the lance with a flying banner as an ensign which Ecclesia holds in her left hand, goes back to antiquity and is a sign of sovereignty. Likewise the disc that the old man holds in his hand, is a symbol of power. It represents the globe in a simplified sphere symbolising the universe, which had been the attribute for world domination since the time of the Roman emperors.

A masterpiece of calligraphy

The liturgical text is written with great care in two types of script. The minuscule script used in the running text is complete with golden capitals, capitalis rustica, and uncials in all text divisions, thus not only highlighting single passages but also grading the importance of the text.
The main portion of the Sacramentary, or Canon Missae (fol. 14r–21r), is enhanced with special ornament of extraordinary richness, with countless golden initials, figurative portrayals, and elaborate frames, the text being written throughout in glowing golden letters.

Bishop Drogo’s personal Sacramentary

The Sacramentary was not only destined for general use on all days of the Church year but also for the bishop’s personal use. It thus only contains those feast days on which the bishop himself celebrated Mass, as also prayers for the sacraments and solemnities recited by the bishop.

The commentary volume

The commentary written by Wilhelm Koehler contains a general introduction and an insight into the history and making of the Sacramentary. It gives a short explanation of the compilation, decoration, and contents of the manuscript, and provides an overview of the secondary literature.

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