A personal treasure : the Baltimore-Helmarshausen Psalter (Walters Art Museum MS W. 10) and its originally-intended owner
Earlier scholarship on the Baltimore-Helmarshausen Psalter (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W. 10) focuses almost exclusively on the identity of the noblewoman depicted in the full-page owner portrait before the start of the psalm text. This study will instead examine how this unusually small manuscript and its illuminations functioned as a private devotional prayer book for its original intended owner, Duchess Matilda Plantagenet (1156-1189), wife of Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria (1129- 1195). This analysis will explore how the psalter’s textual content, physical format, and illuminations, particularly the portrait of the originally-intended owner, appealed to the Duchess Matilda sensually as well as spiritually. The Baltimore-Helmarshausen Psalter offers a rare opportunity to compare the public artistic commissions of a medieval magnate, including architecture, reliquaries, and manuscripts, with the more private works of patronage made at his court. To that purpose, the Gospels of Henry the Lion (Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2°), commissioned by the ducal couple for the Saxon court church of Saint Blaise in Brunswick, will be examined, bringing the intimacy of the psalter into stark relief. The Baltimore-Helmarshausen Psalter provides a glimpse of the personal and spiritual role that illuminated manuscripts played in the lives of medieval laymen and –women and hints at the taste for personal prayer books with portraits of the owners at their devotions that would arrive in the next century. This thesis will make the psalter the topic of extensive art historical analysis for the first time.