Cover image for Picturing Kingship: History and Painting in the Psalter of Saint Louis By Harvey Stahl

Picturing Kingship

History and Painting in the Psalter of Saint Louis

Harvey Stahl


$98.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-02863-7

464 pages
8.5" × 11"
60 color/50 b&w illustrations

Picturing Kingship

History and Painting in the Psalter of Saint Louis

Harvey Stahl

“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.”


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Finalist, 2009 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, College Art Association

Publication of this book has been aided by a grant from the Millard Meiss Publication Fund of the College Art Association

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.

“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”

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


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



Introduction (partial, due to full text limit reached):

In the mid-1260s an extensively illuminated psalter was made for Louis IX of France (Paris, Bibl. Nat., MS lat. 10525). Illuminated psalters, like books of hours, are often highly revealing documents, for few other works similarly bring historical and artistic issues to bear within the devotional experience of a single layperson. Private in use and frequently intimate in character, their content and decoration often reflect the religious and aesthetic preferences and, in some cases, the circumstances and self-image of the owner. This would have been the case especially for a wealthy person, whose prayer book may have been a specially commissioned work and who could therefore influence, directly or through advisors, the textual and visual content of the product. Among such works, a royal psalter is of particular interest, for if the king were devout, the manuscript might well have been an object of daily use, part of the physical culture surrounding the monarch and, in the case of an extensively illustrated work, a source of the imagery that informed his world.

A royal psalter is also exceptional because David was understood to be both the author of the Psalms and the prototype of all Christian kings, and so the words and imagery of the psalter might well seem to address the reader directly. Moreover, the visual imagery and ideological content of such a manuscript were not necessarily those of the monarch’s more public works or, for that matter, those of the Church. Although usually traditional and flattering, its message to the regent could also be moralizing or instructional, tempered with private meaning, its content privileged, and not always welcome. What kings read and contemplated is always of interest but never more so than when the message concerns the relation not only between God and man but between the man and his office.

Those relations are built into the form and content of the Psalter of Saint Louis. The manuscript is his most personal possession to survive and the first prayer book of a French king to be preserved since the Carolingian era. Often reproduced, it is a work frequently used to exemplify the character and quality of royal patronage at a time when Paris first became the political, intellectual, and cultural leader of Europe. It is also well known because of the almost mythical stature that Louis IX acquired in the Middle Ages and retained for several centuries. He superintended one of the most expansive periods of the French monarchy and was the first and only French king to be canonized. Several later generations took him to embody the sacral nature of French kingship and the personal virtues requisite for success in office and treated his Psalter as a kind of relic and unofficial symbol of state.

The historical king and his manuscript are not easily interpreted. The king’s profound piety and high ethical standards were no doubt a source of his strength and authority, informing his policies and judgment and his very real success as a reformer, mediator, and international leader. But his overarching sense of religious mission at home and abroad could also lead to decisions that were impractical, intolerant, and shortsighted, to misunderstandings about his duties and preferences, and to doubts about the priorities driving policy and strategy. He was a man who was self-conscious of his historical role and sometimes uncertain of his own performance and anxious about his legacy. In its own way, his prayer book is as complex as the man himself. It is not just a luxury manuscript that epitomizes the excellence that only the Crown could afford but an unpredictable and inconstant work, searching, often intemperate, and experimental in its vision. Its unusual pictorial program is politically charged but oddly open-ended, personalized for this singular reader and delivering a message that might have been difficult to present to the king in some other way. It is a work that provides the modern reader a privileged access to subjects of study that intersect nowhere else: the role the visual played in the private life of a king in whose reign the visual arts flourished; the shaping of devotion in the experience of a man whose piety was legendary; and the fictions of history, duty, and kingship created for a ruler who transformed the French monarchy and was idealized as its most Christian king.

The Psalter of Saint Louis is a small manuscript in octavo preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris (lat. 10525). It begins with seventy-eight full-page miniatures depicting episodes from the Old Testament. Following the pictorial cycle is a liturgical calendar, and this in turn introduces the 150 psalms of David, the principal text of the book, which is followed by a short series of concluding canticles and hymns. Eight large historiated initials mark the major divisions of the psalms, and initials and line-endings, mainly in blue and gold, decorate the entire Psalter text.

The connection of this manuscript with Louis IX is circumstantial but has never been doubted. The calendar includes obits commemorating the deaths of the king’s father, Louis VIII; his grandfather Philip II Augustus; his mother, Blanche of Castile; and his brother Robert of Artois. The backgrounds of four of the eight major psalm initials are decorated with heraldic emblems: the fleurs-de-lis of the king, the castles of Castile of his mother, and the pales of Provence of his wife, Margaret of Provence. The same arms occur in line-endings throughout the manuscript. Its liturgical calendar is Parisian and for use in the royal chapels; feasts related to the Sainte-Chapelle are particularly prominent. The same calendar and heraldry are found in a contemporary manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, to be discussed below, but the feminine endings of some of its prayers indicate it was intended for a woman, probably either the king’s sister or daughter, who were each named Isabella. The Bibliothèque nationale manuscript, however, could not have made for any of the king’s siblings, who were unable to carry the arms of Provence, and its obit for Robert of Artois makes it quite unlikely the manuscript was made for any of the king’s children, such as the future Philip III, who was only four years old when his uncle died. The only real possibility is Louis IX himself, an attribution that the program and details of the Psalter amply sustain.

No documents pertaining to the commission of the Psalter survive, and so the date and circumstances of its creation can be inferred only from internal evidence. Because the calendar includes the feast of Peter of Verona, the manuscript must postdate his canonization in 1253 and the king’s return from his first Crusade, in 1254. A date after 1258 is also likely, for several line-endings include the arms of Champagne and of Navarre, in all likelihood a reference to Thibaut V of Champagne-Navarre, whom the king’s daughter Isabella married in that year. However, the manuscript was probably created almost ten years later, for its most advanced decoration reflects some of the most precocious currents in Parisian art of the 1260s. Other psalters were no doubt available to the king, and it is unclear why he needed a new one. Whatever occasioned its creation, the Psalter was made in a period marked by the king’s deepening piety and concern about the public representation of the kingdom and his own legacy. It was probably planned in the first years of the 1260s, along with the manuscript in Cambridge. In this study I argue that in the end it responds to concepts of kingship and anxieties about legacy that are characteristic of the final years of the king’s reign and that were especially in play as he departed for his second and ultimately fatal Crusade. This response, timely though unexpected in this context, may well explain why the book took on the final and unusual form it has today.

The Psalter is a small manuscript, measuring only about eight by six inches. Now bound in dark blue velvet, it originally had wooden covers and was probably held closed by leather straps with clasps. It is a substantial object, almost three inches deep and weighing nearly three pounds, a book small enough to hold in one hand yet too heavy to handle casually or to open without support. Let us imaginatively take this book in hand and try to understand how it presents itself for viewing.

The modern cover and flyleaves are turned to reveal a page of thin vellum almost pure ivory in color. It is blank except for one sentence written near the top (fol. 1r), which begins En ceste page est conment . . . (“On this page is how . . .”) and goes on to describe the Sacrifices of Cain and Abel, the subject of the painting on the other side of the page. It is an odd way to begin a book: a page that identifies an image on its reverse, a label for an unseen painting, a backside.

Turning the page reveals two facing pages, each with illuminations that are so generous in their use of gold they seem almost gilded (fols. 1v–2r). The illuminations are small, only about 5 by 3_ inches, and rather than centered on the page, they are placed toward the upper and inner part of the page, so that they face each other like the panels of a diptych. Each has a broad frame edged in gold and decorated with undulant vines; bounded by the frame is an elaborate architectural structure above and a narrative subject below. The left page depicts the event the legend describes: Abel kneels at the left of a hillock and lifts up a yearling, as the hand of God descends to bless his offering. Cain stands tall on the other side of the hillock and holds out a sheaf of wheat but turns away, as the flames from his kindling turn downward. The pictorial program thus begins with two acts of devotion, with figures of piety and irreverence, and with the acceptance and rejection of their offerings.

The architectural setting is a multilevel structure. Thin colonnettes rest on the lower frame and rise at the center and sides of the narrative scene, continuing up to support pinnacles with towers that just touch the upper frame. Between and behind these pinnacles rise two high broad gables, each with a large rose window over two pointed arches. Behind and above the gables is the flank of a contemporary Gothic building, with its high buttresses, clerestory windows, and roof. This structure is reiterated on the facing page (fol. 2r), where the narrative continues with the Murder of Abel. The legend for this page is on its reverse (fol. 2v), which in turn faces a folio (fol. 3r) with only the legend to the next painting. This arrangement of facing pages of illuminations alternating with facing pages of legends continues for another seventy-five folios. The system is clear: pictures face each other and form a unit, their legends are on their reverses, and the architectural and narrative elements that link each pair of facing pages are taken up again in the next pair. Viewing is a matter not just of turning pages but of opening and closing, one by one, the units of pictures.

The pictorial world within the illuminations is carefully organized. Cloud banks in the arcade separate it from the architectural structure above, and a central colonnette usually divides the narrative zone in two, the narrow fields on each side having the same proportion as the figures themselves. Although small in real height, the figures are large and distinct in relation to the densely patterned forms of the architecture and frame. Some figures and forms push out to the foreground, while others lie in a shallow but discrete space implied by the layering of architectural planes above, the overlapping of figures, the geometric shapes that project forward and back, and the repoussoir effect of the outer frame. The frame overlaps everything within it, cutting off the architectural forms, the narrative objects, the figures and actions, which seem to continue behind it.

The scenes are usually crowded with figures, often arranged in facing groups with repetitive movements. Yet the compositions are anything but rigid. The gables and arcades compose and accent the figures and the space beneath them. Figures tend to glide, swing, and turn; groupings vary and play off against each other; and silhouettes and contours often repeat or build into encompassing shapes or rhythmic movements. In the end it is a space of fluid forms, undulant lines, and varying cadence, one that quickens the narrative, swells and concentrates space, and mobilizes the eye.

The frame and architecture form a casement and portal through which one is drawn into a diminutive world and absorbed into its scale and into its stories and situations. Although many figures have dancelike or exaggerated movements, other figures have intense gestures and hands and heads that determinedly touch, listen, and see. The compositions may be quick and its elements hypercharged and overrefined, but at the scale in which the narrative operates, details suggest intentional action, social exchange, nuanced behavior, and differentiated responses of the senses to the physical world.

These stories are unusually lit. The palette is built around a vibrant play of warm blue and light salmon, the latter applied as a thin wash over the white vellum surface, which lightens the color from beneath. Many figures are strongly modeled, with contrasting shadows and with white reflections. And still others are so thinly painted that forms seem to exist within the ambient tones of colored wash. Gold, one of the most striking features of these paintings, is applied as leaf or as a liquid emulsion to the background of the biblical scenes, to the architectural elements, especially the gables, tracery, and buttresses, and to the decorative motifs of the frames. The metallic and reflective qualities of gold are normally at odds with painting, but in many of these paintings the tone of the gold varies as the luminous qualities of the two other colors are brought up, so that all three work together. Technique and palette, usually organized around distinctions that maximize legibility, here reach for the most precarious balance of tone, reflection, and light. Biblical history seems built up of momentary effects.

These histories are viewed frontally, from a stationary point looking into the frame, but the histories are by nature fragmented, both internally, by the architectural forms and scenic divisions, and externally, by the divisions across the gutter of the page and the stops and starts from one double-page opening to the next. Against this fragmentation are the measured, stable, and constantly reiterated forms of the Gothic building, the scale and detail of which suggests a religious structure. It becomes a continuous housing, a form that extends laterally in both directions, with no beginning or end. The viewer follows alongside as pages are turned, the forms cut off by the frame of one picture seeming to reappear in that of the next one.

The first dozen or so paintings present a highly abridged account of the stories of Abel, Noah, and the patriarchs. The illuminations devoted to Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and Saul are more expansive, their lives forming a series of brief histories. Some well-known events, such as the Plagues of Egypt, are summarized in only one picture; unusual histories, such as that of the Benjaminites, receive several; and numerous chapters, especially those concerning genealogy and law, are omitted altogether. Scenes of election, victory, and worship are frequent and thematically link the several narratives together into a larger history of the Hebrews: their becoming a people, their devotion, their leaders, and, finally, their kings.

The series of illuminations ends on folio 78r with Saul, who, having just been crowned and made the first king of Israel, strides forward, just as Samuel offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving. After this image of kingship and devotion and after the French legend accompanying it, the Latin texts begin, first the liturgical calendar and then the Psalms. Psalm 1 is introduced with a full-page illuminated initial B representing David, first in his castle, watching as Bathsheba is washed beside a stream, and then, below, at the edge of a rock and against a field of fleurs-de-lis, kneeling in prayer before Christ in a mandorla. The Psalms thus begin with acts of devotion and prayer, just as the introductory miniatures begin and end.

The transition from the miniatures to the text on the following pages is effortless, for the architectural layout of the paintings is in many ways continued in the design of the text pages: in the lining of the text column, the blocking of the margins, and the proportion and spacing of the script. The balance of tone and color that characterizes the full-page paintings finds its counterpart in the relation between the black script, white vellum, and blue and gold initials. That is, the pictorial values built into this book neither begin nor end with its pictures, just as the devotional themes neither begin nor end with its texts of the Psalms.

After Louis IX’s death, his Psalter remained in the royal collections for six generations. The manuscript is not cited in his will, but the king left such personal possessions to his son Philip III, in contrast to his theological books, which he gave to Dominican and Franciscan foundations. The subsequent history of the manuscript can be reconstructed from a text still found on the verso of the Psalter’s flyleaf. Written in red ink in a good fifteenth-century book hand, it still faces the page with the legend to the Cain and Abel miniature and is placed in approximately the same position on the page (fig. 1): “Cest psautier fu saint Loys. Et le don[n]a la royne Jehanne d’Évreux au roy Charles filz du roy Jehan, l’an de n[ost]re S[eigneur] mil troys cens soissante et nuef. Et le roy Charles p[rese]nt filz dudit roy Charles le donna a Madame Marie de Fra[n]ce sa fille religieuse a Poyssi. Le jour saint Michel, l’an mil iiiic. . . .” The text explains that Jeanne d’Évreux, the wife of Charles IV, Louis IX’s great-grandson, gave the Psalter in 1369 to his son Charles V, and that the latter’s son, Charles VI, gave it to his daughter, Marie de France, who was then a religious at the priory of Poissy. It is thus likely that the Psalter remained in the royal family, passed down from one regent to another until it reached Charles IV, the last of the Capetian line. He would have given it to Jeanne d’Évreux sometime between their marriage, in 1325, and his death, in 1328. She then kept the manuscript during the entire reigns of Philippe le Valois and Jean le Bon, leaving it to Charles V only in 1369, two years before her death. It is unclear when Charles VI gave the Psalter to Marie or when this folio was added to the book. The date at the end of the text is largely rubbed away, but because it refers to Charles as the present king and to Marie as a religious at Poissy, it must have been written between 1408, when Marie took the veil there, and Charles VI’s death, in 1422. However, Marie could have obtained the manuscript much earlier, for her father began to loan and give away manuscripts from the royal library almost immediately after he came to the throne.

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The details of the inscription are supported by two documents. The first, the inventory made in 1380 at the death of Charles V, describes the manuscript in precise terms and lists it in the study of the king at Vincennes, that is, in his personal library. It is described as having clasps decorated with enamels bearing the arms of France and Évreux, suggesting that Jeanne d’Évreux not only owned the Psalter but altered its binding. The second is the inventory made in 1484 at the death of Charlotte of Savoy. It cites the manuscript as that of Saint Louis and explains that the deceased borrowed it from a woman at Poissy and that it must be returned.

The manuscript is in nearly pristine condition. The feasts and obits in the calendar were never updated or the prayers changed, although Louis’s own feast was added to the calendar, probably during the reign of Philippe le Bel, who actively promoted his grandfather’s canonization. For its later owners the manuscript evidently took on a new function as an object of the cult of Saint Louis, which was particularly strong within the royal family before and after his canonization, in 1297. In fact, the manuscript’s history in these years closely parallels the way other objects associated with Saint Louis were collected, preserved, and handed down within royal collections. The first owner of record—Jeanne d’Évreux—was especially devoted to Saint Louis. She possessed at least three other objects connected with him and, as noted above, kept his Psalter for over forty years. Toward the end of her life she gave both the king’s Psalter and some of his relics to Charles V, who seems to have owned other reliquaries and objects connected with Saint Louis, works he presumably passed on to his son, the unpredictable Charles VI. The latter was apparently just as willing to part with saint’s relics as he was with the books in his own father’s library. Fortunately, his daughter Marie was interested in both.

The status of the manuscript as a cult object is also suggested by the details of the text on the flyleaf. Most inscriptions of ownership simply record a name and sometimes a date and identify the text. This one is concerned to name the manuscript as Saint Louis’s and to identify certain critical stages of its provenance. By beginning with Jeanne d’Évreux’s gift to Charles V, it effectively describes how the book came into Valois hands, and by ending with the gift of the manuscript to Marie, it explains how the book left the royal library and was transferred to Poissy. This change in location was probably the reason for the insertion of the leaf; it suggests that the Psalter, like a relic, had to be authenticated on the occasion of its translatio. Poissy was the place of Louis IX’s birth, and at the time of its transfer, the Dominican priory there was the center of his cult. To contemporaries at Poissy, the inscription may well have implied the history by which the Psalter was returned to the king.

The transfer of the Psalter to Poissy was timely, for the Valois kings soon left Paris and the royal library was dispersed. The Psalter remained there more or less continuously until the dissolution of the convent in 1793, when many of its books were acquired by collectors and dealers. The history of the Psalter is next discussed in print by the English bibliophile Thomas Dibdin, who was in Paris in 1818 and later published an account of his travels. He saw the manuscript at the Bibliothèque impériale and described its wooden covers wrapped in red velvet and the “original, pure tint” of its parchment, a feature of the manuscript that is still striking. In an important aside Dibdin relates that a Paris bookman named Chardin had bought the book after the dissolution of Poissy and had sold it to a “Russian gentleman” about twenty-five years earlier. It is very likely that Chardin himself was the source of this information, for he was an important dealer whom Dibdin knew personally and who figures prominently in Dibdin’s chapter on the Paris book trade.

The Russian gentleman was Count Alexis Golovkin, for the manuscript next appears in the catalogue of his Moscow collection published in 1798. The catalogue shows that Golovkin had purchased fine illuminated manuscripts and incunabula in the Paris market, especially during the previous twenty years. The Psalter is not listed with his other books but with eighteen items in a supplement appended to the catalogue. The most recently published book in the main section of the catalogue appeared only in 1797, the previous year, while those in the supplement are primarily works that were rebound and probably recently acquired. The entry for the Psalter of Saint Louis paraphrases the fourteenth-century inscription on the flyleaf and then adds that the manuscript remained at Poissy and was sold because of the “circumstances” of the Revolution. This latter explanation was probably intended to show why it had not figured in the main catalogue, and it suggests that Golovkin was one of the first, if the not the first, owner of the Psalter after the Revolution.

Golovkin sold the Psalter by 1811, for it does not figure in a second catalogue of his collection, published in that year. It is likely that it passed directly to Mikhail Petrovich Golitzyn, a bibliophile with the rank of equerry to Alexander I, emperor of Russia. The Psalter next appears in Golitzyn’s catalogue of 1816, along with other fine books described in Golovkin’s earlier catalogue. Sometime in the next two years the French ambassador to Saint Petersburg, the count of Noailles, obtained the manuscript from Golitzyn and on August 20, 1818, just a few days before the feast of Saint Louis, presented it to Louis XVIII.

The timing of the Psalter’s repatriation could hardly been more fortuitous. Louis IX was one of the four kings most frequently employed in the Restoration’s public representations of royalty, the king who represented sanctity. An image of Saint Louis had been placed over Louis XVIII’s dais in the choir of Notre-Dame during the ceremonies marking his triumphal entry into Paris. And in 1818 the feast of the saint—the king’s namesake—was a major public celebration, with parades, speeches, balls, fireworks, and, as the main event, the unveiling of the new equestrian statue of Henri IV. The symbolic meaning of the day was carefully prepared and explicated in the official press. The schedule of festivities had been announced on August 20. A notice published on August 21 reported that the count of Noailles presented the Psalter to the king on the previous day, even though there is evidence that the manuscript had been in Bibliothèque impériale at least since the previous June. The king received the Psalter in a private audience not listed in the calendar of the king’s activities for the previous day but in the report of domestic and Parisian news. It described how the count had the honor “de remettre au Roi” the Psalter and placing it “dans les mains des augustes descendants de Saint Louis.” Immediately following was a note on how, before an immense crowd, the equestrian statue of Henri IV was successfully placed upon its pedestal. To erase any doubt about the symbolism of these two works, an article appeared the next day entitled “Saint Louis–Henri IV–Louis XVIII.” Here the official press made explicit the links between the two Louis and the renewal of continuity between past and present that the festivities on the next day were to celebrate. There is no evidence that the Psalter was used in any official context during the elaborate celebration on the next day. It is nevertheless clear that these official announcements were well orchestrated. The highly charged language of the August 21 notice of the repatriation of the Psalter, coming as it did when the planning of festivities was in full swing, makes it seem as though the saint signaled his approval, returning his prayer book to his native land and to his rightful successor in time for his own feast day. Even if it figured only as an announcement in the daily press, the manuscript functioned, as it did in the thirteenth century, to suggest the sacral origins of French kingship and the operation of providence in history.

Soon after these ceremonies, the Psalter was deposited in the Bibliothèque nationale and accessioned under the number Supplement Latin 636. It remained at the library until 1852, when it was removed for extended loan to the Musée des souverains, a museum created within the Louvre by Louis-Napoléon in order to reunite objects having belonged to the rulers of France. There the Psalter figured within the overarching presentation of regalia, manuscripts, documents, seals, jewelry, armor, and textiles organized dynastically and extending from the Merovingian era to that of Napoléon I. In the exhibition the king’s sanctity was no longer an issue, for all of the objects were “consecrated by royal usage.” Thus the penultimate home of a manuscript in which the historical construction of French kingship figures so importantly was a museum that reinterpreted that construction for a modern audience. Effectively, the Psalter had become an extension of its own narrative. It was not an inappropriate role, for that narrative, as I will show, is also about the reclamation of the past and its claims for the future. In this case, however, the future was particularly short-lived, for the Musée des souverains hardly outlasted the Second Empire. In 1872, two years after Louis-Napoléon was deposed, the manuscript was definitively returned to the Bibliothèque nationale, where it had been reserved and assigned its present number: manuscrit latin 10525.

After Dibdin, no published account of the Psalter appears for sixty years, but the manuscript twice served as a model for artists decorating works associated with Saint Louis. In 1840 parts of three miniatures, selected primarily for their variety of dress, were combined to form the frontispiece to the volume of the Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France devoted to Saint Louis. In contrast to this documentary function, the Psalter was used as a model book by the painters restoring the Sainte-Chapelle, first, from 1843, as a source of decorative motifs, then, by 1850, for figure studies and possibly costumes. In 1862 Louis Steinheil used the Psalter to provide the six subjects for his frescoes in the two tympana of the inner west wall of the Sainte-Chapelle. In the two upper registers he juxtaposed scenes with liturgical connections—the Brazen Serpent and Abraham and Melchizedek—and in the lower registers he copied four scenes of sacrifice, those of Cain and Abel, Abraham, Moses, and Samuel. While all of these subjects are types for Christ’s sacrifice, Steinheil seems to have gone out of his way to select miniatures from the major narratives as well as the first and last miniatures of the manuscript, effectively citing the king’s Psalter in the redecoration of his chapel. And in his stress on the liturgical and sacrificial rather than scenes of anointment, rule, or victory, he responded to one of the basic themes in the introductory cycle as well as to a fundamental aspect of its narrative structure. In these terms, Steinheil’s paintings represent the first real interpretative study of the Psalter.