Production and Reception of the Psalter (about 1450-1700)

Psalterium cum canticis, Augsburg: Johann Schönsperger, ca. 1480
Signatur: H: Yv 146.1.8° Helmst.

Project in the cluster “Text and frame. Modes of Presenting Canonical Works” in the research network Marbach – Weimar – Wolfenbüttel

As a widely used canonical text of the Eastern and Western Christian tradition, the Psalter was among the first works ever printed with Gutenberg’s movable-type printing system. Its printing production grew enormously afterwards, especially during and after the explosive years of the Reformation. Because of its importance for shaping Christian liturgical practices the amount of scholarly literature on the Psalter is vast. Some fundamental questions regarding its impact over the early modern European book market, however, has hitherto received inadequate attention: which editorial, material, and visual strategies did printers adopt to successfully market and distribute new editions and reprints of the Psalter? Who bought, read and sung the Psalter? Which parts were more read, which less? And, above all, how did the common reader react to the theology of the Psalter within private or public reformed worships?

Through the adoption of the methodological and epistemological approaches developed by paratextual analysis and the history of the book over the past decades, this project will explore the semantic and material interaction between text and frame in some 700 surviving copies of the many editions and reprints of the Psalter which, printed between 1457 and 1700, are now held in the Herzog August Library’s unique collection of rare books. Alongside considerations on the extreme variability in size, decoration, design, choice of supplementary texts, and approach to the presentation of the psalms, the research will analyse both printed and handwritten paratextual elements (such as introductions, prefaces, afterwords, and summaries added by printers, as well as handwritten marginalia, musical notes on staves, underlinings, and acts of censorship left by previous owners), in order to evaluate both printer’s publication stratagems, and the uses to which readers actually put their own copies of the Psalter.

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Project information:


Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung im Rahmen des MWW-Verbundes
Duration: März 2017 – August 2018
Researcher: Dr. Valentina Sebastiani, Alexandra Serjogin
Phone: +49(0)5331-808-325, -268, Fax -277