Book Illuminations from the Reichenau Monastery
In the 10th and 11th century, the Benedictine abbey Reichenau probably had Europe's largest and most influential school of book illumination. In its most thriving period between around 970 and 1010/ 20 a series of mostly liturgical manuscripts were crafted there, commissioned by the highest circles of society of that time - prince-bishops, kings and emperors.
With lively artistic imagination and innovative strength monks created great works of art whose beauty and perfection are still breathtaking today. As sources of inspiration they used both the Carolingian book illustrations of the court school of Charlemagne and early Christian and Byzantine models. Academic research categorises the codices into groups named after their writers, artists or principals.
In addition to the Eburnant category and the Ruodprecht category, primarily also the Liuthar category merits mentioning. It groups the splendid manuscripts crafted by members of the Reichenau school of illumination in its absolute prime. The three manuscripts now held by the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek were presumably among the most valuable works presented by Emperor Henry II to the Bamberg cathedral. The gospel book of Otto III. (Clm 4453) with elaborate cover and luxurious illustration was crafted on behalf of the emperor. In addition to a double-page homage of the provinces to the enthroned emperor, the book contains among other things a chronologically arranged series of images on the life of Christ (29 portrait-format whole-page miniatures on a golden background). The representations of the four "visionary" evangelists are regarded as one of the masterly achievements of the Reichenau school of book illumination. The gospel book from the cathedral of Bamberg (Clm 4454) stands out for its special iconographic images, e. g. the representation of Christ in the tree of life surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists and the rivers of the Garden of Eden. The altar cards feature the signs of the zodiac – an unusual combination which is unique for the illuminations of Reichenau. The evangeliary of Henry II (Clm 4452) in addition to the dedication drawing, the coronation of Henry and his bride Kunigunde by Christ, features a cycle of 23 miniatures on the new testament. The monumental, expressive figures particularly come to their own in the double-page representations.
The three manuscripts of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek were entered in the Memory of the World Register at the end of the year 2003, together with seven further illuminated manuscripts from the monastery island of Reichenau in Lake Constance, which are held by other libraries. The codices are outstanding examples of Ottonian book illumination in Germany. They were selected for their importance in the scriptorium, their artistic innovation regarding book decoration and the topics depicted in the miniatures, as well as their expressiveness concerning the religious, political and cultural-historical situation of their time. They also stand for all other Ottonian manuscripts crafted on the Reichenau island.
The Memory of the World Register was founded by UNESCO in 1992. The aim of the programme is to make documents of historic and cultural importance universally accessible, and to prevent them from sinking into oblivion or from destruction.
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