Ottonian Art
History, Characteristics: Illuminated Manuscripts, Religious Art.

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The Prophets and the Beast for
the Abyss (1000-1020)
From The Bamberg Apocalypse
illuminated at the Reichenau monastery

Ottonian Art (c.900-1050)

Contents

Introduction
Characteristics of Ottonian Art
Ottonian Architecture
Ottonian Sculpture and Painting
Ottonian Illuminated Manuscripts
Ottonian Ivory Carving
Influence of Byzantine Art
Ottonian Goldsmithery, Metalwork, Jewellery



The Gold Madonna of Essen
(c.980) Essen Cathedral). A supreme
example of early Christian sculpture
from the Ottonian culture.

EVOLUTION OF VISUAL ART
See: History of Art.

The Ottonian Empire

By the beginning of the 10th century, the Carolingian Empire (though not Carolingian art) had disintegrated as a result of internal dissension and the attacks of external enemies - Norsemen in the west, and Slavs and Magyars in the east. With the election of Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony, as King of the eastern Franks in 918, a process of consolidation began. It culminated in the establishment of the Ottonian Empire under Henry's son Otto the Great, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome in 962 and who gave his name to both the dynasty and the period. The Saxon Emperors reorganized the means of government, developing close cooperation between Church and State in which the Emperor acted both as divinely appointed ruler and as God's vicar on earth - Rex et Sacerdos (King and Priest) - while the great princes of the Church and their clergy acted as a civil service working in close harmony with, and indeed forming, the royal chancellery. Under the Ottonian dynasty the eastern Franks became the undisputed leaders of western Christendom. The princes of the Church, nominees of the Emperor, were not only spiritual prelates, but also feudal lords, and archbishops and bishops themselves took up arms for the Emperor. Bruno of Cologne, Otto I's brother, for example, held the Duchy of Lotharingia as well as the vital archbishopric of Cologne. To see Ottonian art in a German context, see: German Medieval Art (c.800-1250).


The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (c.950)
10th century ivory relief sculpture
from the Ottonian period.
Bode Museum, Berlin.

OTTONIAN VISUAL ARTS
The main artistic achievements
under Otto I, Otto II and Otto III,
included murals, iluminated
manuscripts, architecture and
architectural sculpture.
Echternach Gospels, Egbert Codex.
Ottonian culture was followed
around 1000 by Europeanwide
Romanesque art (c.1000-1200) and
later by Gothic art (c.1150-1375).

GREATEST MEDIEVAL SCULPTORS
Medieval Artists (c.1100-1400)
Gislebertus (12th century)
Master of Cabestany (12th century)
Master Mateo (12th century)
Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196)

EVOLUTION OF SCULPTURE
For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Another important development was the great movement of monastic reform. In 910, William, Duke of Aquitaine, founded a new kind of independent monastery at Cluny, and similar reforms were undertaken in Lotharingia by St Gerard of Brogue (ob. 959) and at Gorze by St John of Vendieres (ob. c975). The powerful, well-organized monastic houses, with an ever increasing income resulting from more efficient use of land, reached the peak of their power and influence somewhat later, but during the 11th century the established cooperation of Church and State began to break down. The "Investiture Conflict", when the Church, conscious of its growing econnomic strength, was no longer prepared to accept the appointment of bishops by the secular arm, was both symptom and cause of a new situation.

During the 10th century, however, the reform movement was still firmly under the control of the prelates who were often linked by blood and always by common interest to the Imperial power. It was these prelates who created great centres of artistic patronage, competing with the Imperial court itself in generosity and splendour.

Such centres, comparable to the courts of Carolingian kings, were created by Egbert at Trier, by Meinwerk at Paderborn, by Bruno at Cologne, and by Bernward at Hildesheim, as well as by the great ladies of the Ottonian aristocracy, like Mathilde, granddaughter of Otto the Great at Essen, and her sister Adelheid, who was simultaneously Abbess of no less than four convents - Quedlinburg, Gernrode, Vreden, and Gandersheim. If Charlemagne's early Christian art was mainly royal and Imperial, Ottonian art, allthough more broadly based, was still almost exclusively aristocratic.

The Egbert Codex

The Egbert Codex, in the Stadtbibliothek, Trier, is a Gospel Lectionary - a service book with extracts from the New Testament arrranged according to the liturgical year - and was written and lavishly illustrated c.980 for Egbert, Archbishop of Trier from 977 until his death in 993. In the opening folio are the dedication pages. On the right, the Archbishop is enthroned and the manuscript is handed to him by two smaller figures of monks named in the inscription as Keraldus and Heribertus "Augienses" - probably the scribe and the illuminator. There is a dedicatory verse on the facing page.

Much controversy surrounds this book. Although the "Augia" of the inscriptions is usually accepted as referring to the monastery on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance, it is by no means certain that the manuscript was produced there. It has been argued very cogently that it was created under Egbert's patronage in his city of Trier.

What is certain, however, is that it is not only among the finest illuminated manucripts to survive from the early Middle ages, but also that the Egbert Codex itself and the late antique model on which it is based were immensely influential on a whole series of splendid manuscripts produced for the court in the time of the emperors Otto III (996-1002), Henry II (1002-24), and perhaps even Otto II (973-983).

The earliest related book is the Aachen Treasury Gospels (Domschatzkammer, Aachen), which may well have been produced as early as c.980 for Otto II, or possibly for Otto III towards the end of the 10th century. If the Crucifixions in the two codices are compared - the unusual way the two thieves are crucified and the two soldiers throwing dice for Christ's cloak in the Egbert Codex reflecting the four small figures in the Aachen Gospels - they show that a similar model lies behind them. The same can be said for the Crucifixion scenes in the Otto III Gospels of c.1000 and the Henry II Lectionary which can be dated to between 1002 and 1014 (both in the Staatsbibliothek, Munich), where in each case similarities exist. Take, for example, the figure of Stephaton with a spear, on the right of the cross: it looks very like the same figure in the Aachen Gospels; while the two figures of soldiers dicing seem to reflect a knowledge of the Egbert Codex rather than the Aachen book, and the thin border frame in the Otto III Gospels copies the Egbert borders precisely. No doubt the illuminators of the two later books knew both the earliest or the original prototype used for the Egbert Codex.

It is the Egbert Codex that reflects the early model most exactly. The use of the thin, red borders with lozenge-shaped gold ornament, and the whole concept of the painterly aerial perspective to be seen in the Egbert Codex, closely resembles one of those very rare survivals of illuminated late antique books, the Vatican Virgil, which dates from c.400. The earlier illuminations in the Egbert Codex, like the Annunciation on fol. 9v., have been attributed to an artist who has been called the "Gregory Master" after a superb leaf, once in a manuscript with the letters of St Gregory, dated 983, and now in the Musee Conde, Chantilly. It shows Otto II enthroned, in the same border and against the same softly painted infinity, and with a softly modeled figure so clearly in the late antique humanist tradition.

GOTHIC ILLUMINATIONS
For details of 14th/15th century
Gothic manuscript illuminators,
see: Limbourg Brothers.

Characteristics of Ottonian Art

Ottonian art was the result of three major influences: a revival of the northern Carolingian artistic heritage, a renewed interest in northern Italian art, and a more direct contact with Byzantine art so brilliantly revived under the Macedonian emperors after the final abandonment of Iconoclasm in 842. The interest in their own Imperial past seems natural enough, and the influence of Italy was the direct result of political involvement with the papacy. This began with a first campaign in 951, when the Pope asked for Otto's help against the Lombards; it resulted in Otto being crowned King of Lombardy at Pavia in the same year. A passionate interest in Italy and things Italian continued under Otto's successors, who have often been accused of neglecting their northern homelands, both politically and artistically. Not until the reign of Henry II (1002-24) did a German emperor again reside north of the Alps for any length of time. The intimate and personal contact with the Byzantine court led to the marriage of Otto's son to a Greek princess, Theophanu, one year before Otto the Great's death in 973. On Otto II's death in 983, this powerful lady became regent for her son Otto III, born in 980, and she continued to rule the Empire until her death in 991.

Ottonian Architecture

In architecture, however, Carolingian traditions predominated and were developed. The emphasis on western blocks with towers and on crypts continued, but a number of innovations were developed during the 10th century which all led towards a more precise articulation of architectural forms both internally and externally. Unfortunately, little survives from the earlier phases of this development, begun, no doubt, with the reconstructions and new foundations initiated by Henry the Fowler and Otto I - for example Henry's favourite foundation at Quedlinburg (post 922) and Otto's at Magdeburg, begun in 955.

These innovations include the elaboration and more extensive use of galleries, often, in the 9th century, restricted to use in the western blocks (Westwerk), the development of an alternating system of supports-columns and heavy piers which divide a wall into a repeating pattern of bays, and clearly defined crossings of transept and nave, again seen as four bays meeting and reflecting each other. Externally, wall arcades, blind arches around windows, and both horizontal stringcourses and vertical pilaster shafts were used to divide wall surfaces into well-defined areas to emphasize and explain structure. All this imposed on buildings a far more clearly expressed and self-conscious "design" of both space and wall. Proportions are often simple geometric relationships, harrmonious and easily understood.

One of the rare surviving buildings of earlier Ottonian architecture is St Cyriakus at Gernrode, founded by Margrave Gero in 961. The western part is heavily emphasized by two strong staircase towers flanking a large western block with an internal western gallery, very much in the Carolingian tradition. But externally, blind arcades, stringcourses, and pilasters divide up the wall surfaces into units, relating to windows, internal floor levels, and bay divisions. Internally, the crossing of a transept, which hardly projects beyond the aisle walls, is clearly defined by high arches carried on attached pilasters across the nave and the chancel. The nave is articulated by alternating columns and piers, and each bay of two arches in the nave is surmounted by a gallery opening, divided by four arches, carried on small columns, again separated from the next bay by a heavy pier. In all this a clear sense of harmony is expressed, achieved by balance and the regular repetition of geometric units. It is these qualities of order and harmony that were further developed during the 11th century, both within the Ottonian Empire and elsewhere, and were fundamental to the creation of the great Romanesque church.

Indeed, historians usually discuss the beginnnings of Romanesque architecture in terms of the abbeys of St Michael at Hildesheim and Limburg an der Haardt, one founded by St Bernward of Hildesheim in 1001, the other by the Emperor Conrad II in 1025. They find it difficult to make any valid stylistic distinctions between these and a more fully developed Romanesque building, like the second cathedral of Speyer, built between 1092 and 1106 by Henry IV, after its main outlines had been determined by Conrad II's Speyer, begun in 1030 and consecrated in 1061. Only in two respects was the great church of the late 11th and 12th centuries to go beyond the achievements of the 10th and early 11th-century builders. One was the ability to construct the high stone vaults of choir and nave, first by barrel or groin and then by ribbed vaults; the other was the growing importance of sculptural decoration, which began almost to dominate purely architectural principles towards the beginning of the 12th century.

Ottonian Sculpture and Painting

In the Ottonian period, the decorative role of medieval sculpture remained concentrated on church furnishings - doors, altars, tombs, Easter candlesticks, and sepulchres - rather than indulging in the interpenetration of architecture: sculpture so typical from the Romanesque onwards.

It is true that more ephemeral decoration, such as painting and stucco, may have played a larger part in architecture than their rare survival allows us to assume, but where architectural sculpture does survive in some quantity, as for example on carved capitals, it is clear that architectural traditions rather than pictorial principles predominated. The ubiquitous Corinthian-derived capital and simpler forms like chamfered or cushion capitals - the latter perhaps originally decorated by painting - seem to be the only parts of the buildings that gave opportunities to the masons to exercise their carving skills. It was not until the second half of the 11th century, first on capitals and then in decorative moldings, figural decoration on portals, tympana, wall-surfaces, and especially on the west fronts of most churches, that the sculptural ability of craftsmen, for so long restricted to the relatively small scale of furnishings, were given new and vast fields to conquer.

The Ottonian desire to increase the articulation of architecture, to produce a structured sense of order and harmony, may also have been achieved by large, decorative schemes of wall-painting - but, alas, very few fragments have survived. The only major scheme of Biblical art still to be found north of the Alps can be seen in the church of St George of the monastery of Oberrzell on the island of Reichenau. Although much damaged and much restored, it is still clear that the large, plain surfaces of the nave walls above the arcades and below the clerestory windows were divided by broad bands decorated with illusionistic multi-coloured meander strips separating the arcade, with roundels in the spandrels, from the large scenes showing the miracles of Christ above them. Both in style and technique these paintings owe much to north Italy, as most major architectural decoration had done already in the 9th century. But they can also be compared to manuscript illumination of c.1000 especially to the work of schools patronized at the Imperial court which themselves owed much to the same sources. Large, imposing figures dominate the scenes, placed against architectural backcloths with buildings in rudimentary perspective as in late antique paintings. The horizontal strips of blue, green, and brown, of the background, are also derived from the same illusionistic late antique tradition.

Ottonian Illuminated Manuscripts

Book painting, one of the richest forms of Christian art produced during the Ottonian era, is far better documented by a surprising quantity of surviving illuminated manuscripts. It begins with what seems almost a self-conscious revival of early Carolingian forms, in the Gero Codex (Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt), a Gospel lectionary closely copied from the Lorsch Gospels of the Court School of Charlemagne (which survives in two halves, one in the Vatican Library, Rome, the other in the Biblioteca Documentata Batthayneum, Alba Julia, Rumania), and produced c.960 for a "Custos Gero", perhaps the later Archbishop of Cologne (969-76). The Codex Wittikindeus painted in the late 10th century at Fulda (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin) is another manuscript that clearly illustrates the strength of the early Carolingian tradition in the second half of the 10th century. The latter is almost indistinguishable in style from the Court School of Charlemagne, while in the Gero Codex there is a degree of simplification, a somewhat broader use of forms, an emphasis of essentials and the elimination of the at times rather fussy detail of Carolingian painting, as well as the use of a lighter, more chalky palette, which more clearly differentiates it from its Carolingian model.

The finest achievements of Ottonian illumination are connnected with the patronage of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier (977-93), and the Imperial court. The origin of this interrelated series of illuminated manuscripts has long been connected with the Imperial monastery of Reichenau, believed to have been the seat of the chancellery of the Emperors, but it has been argued more recently that most of the manuscripts were produced at Trier. What is quite clear is that the scriptorium worked both for Egbert and for the Emperors Otto II (973-83), Otto III (996-1002), and even on until the reign of Henry II (1002-24), and that it should be seen first and foremost as an Imperial scriptorium. (For a comparison with Irish masterpieces, see Book of Kells.)

One of the manuscripts of this closely interrelated group of masterpieces of book illustration - a gospel lectionary which sets out the readings from the gospels throughout the liturgical year, known as the Egbert Codex (Stadtbibliothek, Trier; Cod. 24) - was certainly made for the personal use of Egbert. Born c.950 in Flanders, Egbert was made Archbishop of Trier in 977 by Otto II after only one year as head of the German Imperial Chancellery. He had probably entered the Imperial household under Otto I and went to Italy with Otto II and Theophanu in 980. He attended the Diet at Verona in 983, and, after the death of Otto II in the same year, supported the claim of Henry the Wrangler to the regency during the infancy of Otto III, who was only three years old when his father died. Egbert returned to Germany, and in 985 made his peace with Theophanu who had succeeded in her ambition to assume the regency. But Egbert played no major part in politics thereafter.

Under Egbert's rule, Trier became a flourishing centre for scholarship and the arts. The Egbert Codex was produced certainly after 977 - Egbert appears as an Archbishop on its dedication page - probably after 983, and before his death in 993. Both in style and iconography this codex is closely related to a number of manuscripts known as the "Liuthar group", named after the monk Liuthar. He is portrayed as the scribe in the gospels of Otto III, written between 997 and 1002, now in Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; Cod. 4453). The other major manuscripts of the group are the early 11th-century lectionary of Henry II (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) and the Aachen Treasury Gospels, often attributed to the reign of Otto III (c.1000), but more probably made for Otto II shortly before his death in 983.

See also: History of Illuminated Manuscripts.

This Imperial scriptorium drew on a combination of late antique and Byzantine influences. From the late antique tradition of northern Italy came the rich, atmospheric settings, the pale colour, the loosely painted figure-style, and the architectural details - all characteristics also found in the so-called "Gregory Master", named after the Registrum Gregorii (Musee Conde, Chantilly) who worked for Egbert in Trier in the 980s. Byzantine illumination contributed new, post-Iconoclastic iconographic themes, and provided models for solid gold-leaf backgrounds, increasingly popular in Ottonian painting. An even stronger reliance on Byzantine traditions, especially in the use of full and vivid brushwork, was found in the Cologne region, where the Gospels produced for the Abbess Hitda of Meschede (Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt; Cod. 1640) and the Sacramentary of St Gereon (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Cod. Lat. 817) were produced in the early 11th century.

See also: Making of Illuminated Manuscripts.

At the same time - indeed, already in Henry II's lectionary, but in an even more pronounced manner - in the somewhat later Bamberg Apocalypse (Staatliche Bibliothek, Bamberg) a hardening of forms occurs: a new insistence on flat colour with a strict formal balance, not unrelated to the search for pattern and harmony as in architectural design, which enabled powerful and expressive images to be created. A similar emphasis on pattern, although very different in character, being based more on an almost metallic brilliance and jewel-like details, was developed in another scriptorium which also enjoyed the Imperial patronage of Henry II, at Regensburg, where outstanding manuscripts like the Sacramentary of Henry II (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) and the lectionary of Abbess Uta of Niedermunster (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) were written.

Towards the end of the Ottonian period, around the middle of the 11th century, both at Salzburg and at Echternach, hardened forms again dominate, but here solid figures almost sculptural in three-dimensional solidity contribute yet another important characteristic as source material for the beginnings of Romanesque illuminated manuscripts of the 12th century. Outstanding among this Medieval manuscript illumination is the so-called "Golden Gospels" of Henry III (The Escorial, near Madrid) given to Speyer Cathedral, the burial church of his dynasty, painted at Echternach 1045-6, where there is also a strong dependence on the Carolingian traditions of the Tours school. At Salzburg, this "solid figure" style is much more profoundly influenced by middle Byzantine illumination, as can be seen in the lectionary from the library of the Archbishops of Salzburg (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). This was followed by a new style of Gothic illuminated manuscripts (1150-1350).

Ottonian Ivory Carving

It is not surprising that during the Ottonian period, when art was so heavily dependent on both Imperial and aristocratic patronage, there should also have been major contributions in the luxury arts of goldsmiths' work and ivory carving. It has been difficult to attribute surviving work to the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Henry I, but a splendid ivory casket survives in the monastery of St Servatius at Quedlinburg that may well have been donated by him. Not only was this monastery his favourite foundation, begun in 922, and where both the king and his wife were buried, but three ivory shrines were recorded in its treasury as early as the beginning of the 11th century, and it seems more than likely that the handsome casket was one of them. An inscription on its base records that a restoration of it was undertaken under Abbess Agnes (1184-1203) and it is clear that some parts of the rich silver-gilt foliate filigree were added to it then. But the remainder of the metalwork - especially the oblong cloisonne enamels - would fit better into the early 10th century. Similar enamels were employed in the middle of the 9th century on the Golden Altar of S. Ambrogio in Milan.

The figure carving of the single apostles under arcades also shows both strong links with Carolingian traditions sespecially those of St-Gall c.900 - as well as the kind of thickening of form and more solid and somewhat more static treatment of figures characteristic of the transition from Carolingian to Ottonian styles at the beginning of the 10th century. More convincing still is the decoration of engraved snakes in the spandrels of the ivories in the Quedlinburg casket, now hidden under the metal mounts but revealed during a restoration, which can be compared to exactly similar decoration between arches in the Folchard Psalter, illuminated at St-Gall between 855 and 895.

During the reign of Otto I, material becomes more plentiful. In ivory-carving there is the more securely dated antependium (altar-frontal), commissioned by the Emperor for his new cathedral of Magdeburg begun in 955. Some 16 panels survive scattered in various museum collections and libraries reused as bookcovers. Among the surviving panels, (approximately 5 x 4 inch) most of which are decorated with scenes from Christ's ministry in the New Testament, there is a dedication scene (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which Otto is shown, attended by St Peter and probably St Mauritius, the patron saint of Magdeburg, presenting the model of the new church to Christ enthroned. The figures are stiff and massive against a pierced background of heavy pattern, probably originally set against gilt-bronze. The borders are broad, undecorated, and flat, and were probably intended to be covered by decorated metal framework. Although it is known that for the building itself at Magdeburg Italian materials like columns and marbles were imported, the style of these ivories is not difficult to see as one derived from northern Carolingian traditions. When attempting to locate the style to a particular region, however, a perennial problem of Ottonian art arises - especially when dealing with court commissions. Either craftsmen practiced their art while on the move with the peripatetic Imperial court, or the Emperors gave their orders to the various abbeys patronized by them. In the end, it must be more important to discover in what kind of milieu artists formed their style, and what sources were availlable to them, rather than attempt to define the precise location of any given workshop.

In the case of one of the most important objects associated with Otto I, the great Imperial crown now in Vienna (Welttliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer), such an approach must lead to the conclusion that it is unlikely this masterpiece of the goldsmith's craft could have been made north of the Alps. The techniques of stone settings, and the large figurative cloisonne enamels found on four of the large eight panels hinged toogether to form the crown, have no antecedents in northern Europe. Only in Italy and in the Byzantine tradition could any craftsman have acquired these skills. It was also customary in the early Middle Ages for the Pope to provide the crown for Imperial coronations; no one would have been more deserving of special papal generosity than Otto who had come to the aid of the Holy Father in his struggle against the Lombard kings.

Was the crown, then, made for Otto I's Imperial coronation in Rome in 962? The internal evidence of the crown itself lends strong support to this attribution. The arch that now spans the crown from front to back bears an inscription giving the name of the Emperor Conrad, who was crowned in 1027. The arch is clearly an addition to the original, quite different in style: the crown must therefore have been made for an earlier occasion. Yet another piece, now part of the crown, a small cross mounted rather awkwardly on the front, is by yet a different workshop, which can be paralleled in the court commissions of c.980 and is most likely therefore to have been added for Otto II after his succession in 973 - especially as Otto III was only three years old when his father died and only 16 when he assumed the Imperial title in 996: the crown is unusually large even for a fully grown man. There seems little doubt, then, that the crown was in its original form intended for Otto I in 962.

Although no exact parallel to the general form of the crown survives, it is true to say that large, figurative enamels with semicircular tops are found only on Byzantine crowns - like the 11th-century Byzantine crown of Constantine Monomachus, in the National Museum, Budapest.

Influence of Byzantine Art

An increasing interest in Byzantine fashions was clearly evident at the Ottonian court, especially after the marriage of Otto's son to the Byzantine princess Theophanu in 972. A large number of pieces of jewellery, including half-moon shaped earrings of pure Byzantine form and a lorum, a kind of breast ornament fashionable in Byzantine court dress, were found in Mainz in 1880 and named the "Gisela" treasure after the wife of the Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1043. The treasure may well have been lost or hidden in the 11th century, but the workmanship and the strong Byzantine connections make it far more likely that it had once belonged to a lady of the earlier Ottonian court, probably Theophanu herself. She and her husband, Otto II, are certainly shown in pure Byzantine court dress on an ivory panel (Musee Cluny, Paris), a close western copy of a Byzantine type of ivory. The Imperial pair are represented being crowned by Christ, exactly as on a panel on which Christ crowns the eastern Emperor Romanos and his consort Eudoxia (Cabinet des Medailles, Paris) probably carved in Constantinople between 959 and 963. Even the inscription on the Ottonian panel is for the most part in Greek.

Style, as well as fashion and iconography, fell under the spell of Byzantine art during the reign of Otto II. A superb, small panel (Castello Sforzesco, Milan) shows Christ in Majesty attended by St Mauritius and the Virgin with the Emperor to the left and Theophanu with her infant son on the right and the inscription below: "OTTO IMPERATOR". It was perhaps a gift from the Abbey of St Mauritius in Milan. Here the broad, massive forms, the flat relief, and the strict placing of the figure within a tightly drawn frame are all reminiscent of the style already seen on the Magdeburg antependium. But while the northern panels show a dry, linear treatment of drapery, the later panel has a smoother overlapping of folds, better understood modeling, and a far more subtle and sophisticated handling of relief - all derived from Byzantine models. The large ivory situla (holy water bucket), now in the treasury of Milan Cathedral, with an inscription stating it was made for Archbishop Gotfredus of Milan (975-80) to be given to the Emperor during his visit to Milan, is from the same workshop.

Ottonian Goldsmithery, Metalwork, Jewellery

Once art at the court had been saturated by north Italian and Byzantine taste - neither Otto II nor Otto III spent much time north of the Alps - the influence of such work increased in aristocratic circles in Germany. Two workshops were created: one at Trier by Egbert, and another by Mathilde, grand-daughter of Otto I at Essen, where she was Abbess from 973 until her death in 1011. A series of three gold altar crosses, decorated with precious stones and large cloisonne enamels, all given by her to the Abbey, are still to be seen in the Domschatzkammer, but the major masterpiece of Ottonian goldsmithing was the great three-quarter-life-size reliquary of the Virgin and Child, now in Essen Cathedral. Gold sheet nailed to the wooden core of the seated figure, enameled eyes, and a jewel-studded halo decorated with filigree for the Christ child, enrich this astonishing cult-figure. She is sensitively modeled with fluid, broad flat forms, overlapping and sweeping across her figure, not unrelated to the Milanese ivories already mentioned. But there is something immature about her: the detail is not in complete harmony with the whole sculpture, perhaps because the more usual miniature scale of goldsmiths' work has here been enlarged to an almost life-size piece of freestanding sculpture.

At Trier, three fine pieces of goldsmiths' jewellery art survive of those commissioned by Archbishop Egbert; all are technically related to those produced at Essen, especially in the use of cloisonne enamel of astonishing quality and precision. While the earliest of the altar crosses at Essen was made for Mathilde and her brother Otto, Duke of Bavaria, after 973 and before Otto's death in 982, the workshop at Trier was probably not very active until after Egbert settled there in 985. But one piece, and certainly the earliest, the staff reliquary of St Peter (now in Limburger Domschatz), is dated by inscription to 980. The full length of the staff is covered with gold foil decorated with relief busts (now badly damaged) of ten popes and ten archbishops of Trier, while the spherical knop is enriched with small enamels showing Evangelist symbols, four busts of Saints - St Peter among them - and the 12 Apostles. A second work, and the major surviving commission, is the Reliquary of the Sandal of St Andrew (Domschatzkammer, Trier). The large rectangular box, which served also as a portable altar, over 17 inches long, has a fully three-dimensional foot covered in gold on top, decorated with a strap sandal set with gems, in imitation of the precious relic inside the box. Four very large cloisonne enamels with the symbols of the Evangelists are mounted in the sides and at both ends, while elaborate decoration of pierced gold repeat patterns, set off against red glass enriched with strings of small pearls, show in both technique and style very close relationships with Byzantine goldsmiths' work.

The third piece is smaller but of even more astonishing precision, and an unprecedented technical mastery of enamelling which covers all its surfaces: the reliquary of the Holy Nail of the Crucifixion (Domschatzkammer, Trier).

The same workshop, or at least one of the masters trained there, must also have been responsible for a gold bookcover commissioned by the Regent, the Empress Theophanu, beetween 983 and 991. She is represented on it, along with her son Otto III, as well as a number of saints all closely connected with the Abbey of Echternach, near Trier. The central ivory panel with a crucifixion was inserted into the cover when it was reused for a new manuscript during the reign of Henry III in the middle of the 11th century. Such close collaboration between Egbert and Theophanu would only have been posssible after their reconciliation in 985.

Another, and possibly somewhat earlier Imperial commisssion, the so-called Lothar Cross at Aachen (Domschatzkammmer), cannot be attributed to either of these two outstanding workshops with any certainty, but the shape of the cross, set with filigree and gems and small strips of blue and white step-pattern enamels, relates it to the Essen series, and it may well have inspired them. On the reverse of the Lothar Cross, a superb engraving of the suffering Christ on the cross again reveals the strong dependence on Byzantine models in court circles.

The life-size wooden crucifix figure (Domschatzkammer, Cologne) believed to have been ordered by Archbishop Gero of Cologne (ob. 976) has often been compared to this engraving, but the Gero Crucifix is a far more powerful image and perhaps the most seminal wood-carving of the Ottonian period. Christ is suspended from the cross, arms strained, and the severely modeled head falls on to his right shoulder. The sagging body twists first one way, then the other, and the sharply drawn loincloth jaggedly contrasts with the softly modeled, almost swollen flesh. The thin, twisted legs below are no longer capable of bearing any of the massive weight of the straining body. The harshness of its conception was to be of considerable importance for the next two centuries, and it foreshadows many of the most powerful Romanesque sculptural achievements.

A growing awareness of sculpture, both on the miniature scale of ivory-carving and of larger work for church furnishings, including work in both bronze and stone, became increasingly important during the 11th century. With the premature death of Otto III in 1002 the direct line of Ottonian emperors of the Saxon dynasty came to an end, and Henry II (1002-24), Duke of Bavaria, grandson of Otto I's brother Henry, was elected by the German nobles. In character, Henry was a very different man from his predecessors. At home in his native Saxony rather than in Italy, he enjoyed the chase, was a shrewd and practical politician with a passion for law and order, and a zealous reformer of the church. He had a reputation for piety which led eventually to his canonization in 1146. His gifts to the church were lavish, and the workshops assembled at the end of the 10th century, stimulated by contacts with Italy and the Byzantine tradition, were now fully employed north of the Alps for the first time. Among his gifts survive the Golden Altars for Aachen and for Basel (now Musee Cluny, Paris), the great pulpit for Aachen, the Reliquary of the Holy Cross for Bamberg (Reiche Kapelle, Munich), his favourite foundation, where there are four splenndid vestments, including two great copes, with figure scenes embroidered in gold thread and applique work in deep purple silk. In goldsmiths' work, like the Golden Altar of Basel and the Aachen pulpit, sheer scale is unprecedented. The five great figures at Basel, under an arcade and the full height of the altar, are in high-relief sculpture with a sculptural presence not generally found in major stone sculpture until the end of the 11th century; the great pulpit seems to enlarge a bookcover to an almost heroic scale more than a yard in height. While gems are set on bookcovers, the pulpit has large crystal and semi-precious agate bowls mounted on it.

The outstanding contribution, however, to this new awareness of monumental scale and sculptural potential in church furnishings was made by the workshop created by St Bernward, Bishop of Hildesheim (993-1022). Early in his episcopacy, the workshop produced some very fine small-scale silver castings, including a pair of silver candlesticks, a crozier head made for Abbot Erkanbaldus of Fulda who was appointed in 996, and a small crucifix and Reliquary of very high quality made to contain relics of St Dionysius, acquired by Bernward in Paris in 1006 (all preserved in Hildesheimer Domschatz). After these early experiments in cire perdue casting, Bernward commissioned two major works: a hollow, cast bronze column nearly 13ft high which once supported a crucifix, and a pair of bronze doors nearly 16 ft high for his foundation of the Abbey of St Michael, dated 1015. With these, sculptors took the first steps towards the new monumental style of Romanesque sculpture, which itself paved the way for the apogee of church art in the form of Gothic architecture and its accompanying Gothic sculpture.

Resources For Medieval Art
For the succeeding 'Roman' style, see:
Romanesque Painting (c.1000-1200)
For the Byzantium-Italian style, see:
Romanesque Painting in Italy.
For the more linear French interpretation, see:
Romanesque Painting in France.
For a fusion of Spanish and Islamic styles, see:
Romanesque Painting in Spain.

• For more about Medieval fine arts in Europe, see: Homepage.


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