Psalter of Frederick II


This remarkable illuminated psalter decorated in the Byzantine style was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Sicily (1194–1250) for his third wife, Isabella of England (1214–41). Frederick married Isabella in 1235. By design and execution, the manuscript illuminations combine the color palette of Byzantium with the stylistic rendering of the plasticity of the human body common to the Italian school of the period. Probably executed at the scriptorium in Acri, a hill town in Calabria, the manuscript is decorated with a full-page initial letter encompassing scenes of the Nativity, the most splendid illumination in the book, and eight large illuminations from the life of Christ. It is embellished with large decorated initial letters colored in red, blue, green, and shades of brown, as well as historiated initial letters, ornamental initial letters and numerous small format illuminations that reflect on passages from the Old and New Testaments. The text is written in red and black and has rubricated and blue initial letters throughout. The production of the book reflects the complex period in which it was created. The iconography of many of the images has German sources, the calligraphy is in the style of Italian “rotondo,” and the illuminations show Byzantine influences that are reflected in the architecture, the drapery of the clothes, and the dark faces and deeply set eyes of the figures. This splendid manuscript, made for the queen of the Holy Roman Empire, was composed to reflect the gold and bright enamels of the art of the mosaic and reveals Italian taste tempered by elements of Byzantine classicism. Of German ancestry, Frederick II was one of the most important monarchs of the Middle Ages. A patron of the arts and sciences who spoke six languages (Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek, and Arabic), Frederick ruled over much of present-day Italy, Germany, and parts of France.

Last updated: October 17, 2017