PSALTERIUM BENEDICTINUM cum canticis et hymnis.
[Mainz]: Johann Fust & Peter Schoeffer, 29 August 1459. Fragment of one
leaf (folio 43), printed on vellum. 350 x 220 mm.
The Latin Psalters printed by Fust and Schoeffer in 1457 and 1459 rank
among the finest and most important of all early printed books. The 1457
Psalter was the first book printed with two sizes of type and large
initials, the first to be printed throughout in multiple colors, and the
earliest printed book to bear a colophon that states the names of its
makers and the date of its production. Printed exclusively on vellum,
the Psalter introduced two extremely well designed type fonts, the
larger serving for the psalms and the smaller for the hymns and rubrics.
The most innovative feature of the Psalters of 1457 and 1459 was their
elaborate decorative initials, printed in red and blue ink. Separable
from their interlocking ornament blocks, the initials were inked in one
color while their ornaments were inked in the other. Reassembled in
place, they were printed with the black letters in one pull of the
press. The design of these initials, certainly the work of a trained
calligrapher, has been counted among Schoeffer’s greatest achievements,
although Gutenberg likely played a technical role in their development.
The 1459 Psalter, the second firmly dated book printed in Europe, was
the first edition of the Psalter for Benedictine Use. It was
commissioned by the Benedictines of St. James in Mainz for use in the
monasteries of the Bursfeld Congregation, a rapidly growing reform
movement within the Benedictine Order. Thus, the Psalter dated 1459 is
by no means a “second edition” of the 1457 Psalter, which was designed
with the psalms in an entirely different order for use within the
diocese of Mainz. The 1459 Psalter is also an Imperial folio format book, originally
measuring 19 inches in height, as opposed to the Royal folio Psalter of
1457 (about 16 inches). This immense size illustrates the Psalter’s
function in communal reading within German monasteries, as opposed to
the later tendency to produce portable Psalters for personal reading.
Bridwell Library’s rare single leaf, purchased in 2007, owes its
survival to its re-use as a liner inside a later book binding. This
recycling is indicative of the sudden disregard for the Latin (Catholic)
liturgical books in Reformation Germany.
The text printed on the Bridwell leaf is Psalm 69, sung during
Quadrigesima, the first Sunday in Lent: “Save me, O God, for the
waters are come in unto my soul...” The musical notation was added by
hand. When Schoeffer reprinted the Benedictine Psalter in 1490 (link
to Bridwell Library 1490 Psalter leaf), he was able to add music
printed with wood blocks. In this later Psalter, the aging Schoeffer
printed the two-colored initials in separate pulls of the press that
introduced slightly faulty registration.
Full page view, recto
Full page view, verso