Picturing Kingship: History and Painting in the Psalter of Saint Louis

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Picturing Kingship presents the first comprehensive art-historical study of the personal prayerbook of King Louis IX. The book approaches the St. Louis Psalter through a rich range of perspectives and methodologies and positions it within the contexts of its production and use. Not only is the manuscript’s production and structure given detailed study, but the king’s ways of handling his prayerbook—his habits of reading, looking, and praying—are also set forth in a compelling narrative of his view of his sacred responsibilities as king.

In the first half of the book, Stahl investigates the Psalter’s physical construction and development within the context of manuscript production in thirteenth-century Paris. The second half looks at the Psalter’s thematic and iconographic workings and the role of the king’s adviser—Vincent of Beauvais—in the Psalter’s shaping. Most important, though, the author delves into the meanings the Psalter might have held for the king, who was a crusader and so devout a Christian that he was canonized by Boniface VIII. Stahl makes it clear that the Psalter, already recognized as one of the true masterworks of thirteenth-century French culture, should also be recognized as a significant force in Louis IX’s life and reign.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Stahl’s analysis is cognent and in the main persuasive, written with concise elegance and conviction. This handsome volume will be the fundamental point of departure for any further study of the psalter, and necessary reading for all interested in this famous, important king. It should be in every library.”
—L. Nees, Choice

Picturing Kingship—not a complete facsimile, but handsomely illustrated–-is the first full-scale monograph to be devoted to the manuscript. . . . Excellent colour plates reproduce all eight historiated psalm initials and three-quarters of the prefatory miniatures.”
—Ann Payne, Art Newspaper

“Harvey Stahl’s posthumous study of the St. Louis Psalter promises to take its place as one of the finest monographs ever published on a medieval illuminated manuscript. The psalter provided the backbone of the liturgy and the primary vehicle of private prayer and study before the Book of Hours. One of the best-known manuscripts of the entire Middle Ages, St. Louis’s psalter is also, astonishingly, among the least studied. Stahl’s monograph considers all aspects of the manuscript, from its codicology to its content. Above all, he expands our notion of the expressive and visual capacity of thirteenth-century illumination, which too often is dismissed as stylized mannerism. This is a glorious book on a glorious manuscript.”
—Jeffrey Hamburger, Harvard University

Picturing Kingship is a handsomely produced volume, filled with sumptuous color images from the Saint Louis Psalter and other manuscript comparanda. It is a testament to the penetration of Harvey Stahl’s vision of the Saint Louis Psalter that his volume breathes new life into a well-known manuscript. With Picturing Kingship we have not only a major contribution to our understanding of this monument of Gothic painting but also an exemplar of what a monographic study of a single manuscript can achieve. Stahl’s compelling monograph has laid the groundwork for all future study of this important manuscript.”
—Aden Kumler, Art Bulletin

“The superlative Psalter of St. Louis was at the center of the late Harvey Stahl’s scholarly career. This study was conceived by him as a work that would do justice to that incomparable book. It is a worthy monument to scholar and subject.”
—John Lowden, Courtauld Institute of Art

“It will be difficult to surpass this study at the technical level.”

—Paul Binski, Catholic Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271028637
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2008
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 8.08 (w) x 11.25 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Harvey Stahl was Professor of Medieval Art at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

Foreword by Jacques Le Goff

Editor’s Note

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Manuscript and Its History

1. The Physical Manuscript

2. The Artists and Their Paintings

3. Constructions and Readings

4. Psalters and the Old Testament

5. A Royal Program

Conclusion: The King and His Psalter


Appendix I: Description

Appendix II: Legends

Appendix III: The Calendar (Folios 79r–84v)

Appendix IV: Text Signatures and Catchwords

Appendix V: Concordance of Attributions

Appendix VI: The Previous Binding and Its Textile Covering

Appendix VII: Prefatory Miniatures: Working Groups with Physical Variables



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