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Serbian Psalter, Cod. slav. 4
Serbian Psalter, Cod. slav. 4
Serbia, end of the 14th century.
Paper, 1 + 231 sheets, 28 x 19.5 cm.
Wooden board binding with leather cover of 1629 (restored in 1974).
Provenance: Benedictine Monastery of St. Emmeram in Regensburg.
The "Serbian Psalter" is regarded as the main work of book illumination from medieval Serbia. It represents a singular relic of a Serbian culture which was defined by orthodoxy and Byzantine educational tradition, at a time at which this culture was jeopardized by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. It is assumed that the manuscript was crafted for the Serbian Prince Lazar, who met his death in the Battle of Kosovo against the Turks in 1389, or for his son Stefan Lazarević (deceased in 1427). In the 15th century the manuscript belonged to the Serbian princely family Branković, in the 17th century to the monastery Pribina Glava in the region of Fruška Gora (Syrmia). In the course of the Turk wars, it was acquired by Wolfgang Heinrich von Gemell zu Fischbach, who gave the codex as a present to the monastery of Gotteszell in the Bavarian Forest region in 1689, from where it was finally brought to St. Emmeram in Regensburg in 1782.
The manuscript is rendered unique primarily by the 148 miniatures, which frequently cover whole pages, and which have been an object of research since the end of the past century. On the one hand, they follow the tradition of Byzantine psalm illustrations, but also psalm interpretations, and on the other hand they are strongly influenced by the iconography of Serbian church painting. For the majority of the miniatures, parallels can be found in the Byzantine and Slavic tradition of illustration of Psalters, some miniatures correspond only to a slightly older Bulgarian Psalter (Tomić Psalter, Moscow), others can be found exclusively in this one manuscript. This fact is interpreted as an indication that the Serbian Psalter was crafted at a time in which no canonical type of illustration of the psalms existed any more, or had lost its comprehensive validity.
The language of the Psalter is Church Slavonic of Serbian editing, the script is an old Cyrillic uncial. Only the captions written in red, obviously by a second writer, are of less linguistic and palaeographic sophistication, since they do not represent a biblical-liturgical text: The Slavic language used here is clearly more strongly influenced by (Serbian) vernacular, the script is the smaller half uncial. Researchers have found out that the psalm texts are partly direct translations of a variety of Greek-Byzantine originals, and partly copies of Slavic originals.
The open pages show psalm 88,13 ("Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name") with an image of glorification ("prěobraženie") - a combination which is frequently found in Slavic and Greek comments on the psalms. The iconography is typical for late Byzantine art: Christ is standing on rugged mountains, surrounded by an aureola, with the adoring prophets Elias, who is extending his bare hands, and Moses, who is bending down with covered hands. At the foot of the mountain in the centre, the three Apostles Peter (left), James (right), who are covering their faces to protect them from the rays of the divine glory, and John, who has fallen headlong on the ground, are witnesses to the event.