Codex Egberti

Codex Egberti Facsimile Edition

Monastery of Reichenau (Germany) — 990

Created in Reichenau Monastery and now on the UNESCO World Heritage list: the oldest surviving cycle of paintings on the life and suffering of Christ, created for Archbishop Egbert of Trier

  1. Picture cycle from the world-famous scriptorium of Reichenau Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004

  2. Commissioned by the artistic and powerful Archbishop Egbert von Trier (about 950–993)

  3. Barely escaped destruction by bombing during WWII after being used in Trier Cathedral until the 18th century

Codex Egberti

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Codex Egberti

The Codex Egberti is not only the oldest codex worldwide, which presents the wondrous and painful story of the life and deeds of Christ in pictures, but is simultaneously one of the most exciting and splendid codices that was created during the artistic epoch of Ottonian illumination. The work was created in the scriptorium of the Reichenau monastery between 980 and 993 at the behest of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier. Two monks from Reichenau worked under the direction of the so-called Gregory Master, and the unbelievably precious manuscript reveals dreamlike, spiritual miniatures adorned in high-quality colors with rich gold and silver.


During the time of the Ottonian emperors, an illumination style developed within the Holy Roman Empire that distinguished itself in its monumental and narrative miniatures. Today, the illuminated manuscripts of the Ottonian style count among the most valuable manuscripts in the history of illumination. A magnificent codex from this art-historical period is the so-called Codex Egberti. This work was made for Egbert, the Archbishop of Trier, and is the first codex in the world whose pictorial decoration was concerned with the life of Christ. The Book contains 60 miniatures, whose design was predetermined and overseen by a talented illuminator with the name of convenience “Gregory Master”. The illuminated pages sparkle and shimmer in magnificent colors and noble pictorial backgrounds. Additionally, over 240 decorative initials adorn the pages of the splendid codex.

Art from the Reichenau Monastery

Archbishop Egbert von Trier, is considered by historians to be a one of the greatest lovers and collectors of books during the second half of the 10th century. The great patron of scholarship and art worked with the Reichenau Monastery, which was one of the most important centers of European art at that time. Egbert’s trusted scribe and illuminator was the Master of the Restrum Gregorii, the Gregory Master, who lived in the scriptorium of the Abbey of Trier and carried on correspondence with contemporary illuminators. The master’s art is strongly influenced by Insular and Byzantine Illumination. His knowledge and talents are displayed in the seven miniatures of the codex that he personally created himself. The remaining miniatures were completed by the monks Kerald and Heribert of Reichenau. Both of the gifted painters closely adhered to the pictorial program worked out by the Gregory Master, so that the miniatures of the Egbert codex tell the tale of the life of Christ in interrelated pictures.

A Historically Significant Work

This Codex Egberti is a Gospel pericopes or evangelistary, which contained the gospel texts that were read during Mass in the course of a year. Egbert commissioned it for performing Mass and it was used in St. Paul’s in Trier until the 18th century. During the Second World War, it was next stored in a bombproof tunnel in the Pallien quarter of Trier, but in September of 1944 it was nonetheless transported to the library of the University of Gießen for safe keeping in the face of the advancing Americans. This library was largely destroyed by a bombing on December 11, yet the Codex Egberti miraculously survived the attack. Alongside other Reichenau manuscripts, it was admitted to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in April of 2004.

Impressive Miniature Painting

The Codex Egberti is the oldest manuscript that recounts the Life of Jesus Christ in Miniatures. The sublime, spiritual likenesses represent the events of Christ’s life from birth up to the Ascension and depict the Savior’s miracles in the Holy Land, some of which are to be found in no other manuscripts. The miniatures are clearly influenced by paradigms from Late Antiquity and Byzantium, though the artists simultaneously developed new iconographic ideas in their painting. The work opens with a double-page portrait of the bishop in gold and purple. Two monks are depicted at the feet of Egbert, namely the artists Kerald and Heribert, who present the work to the bishop. Four vivid, full-page depictions of the Evangelists follow this monumental portrait. Hereupon follow 51 narrative, diligently-composed miniatures concerning the life and works of Christ. The pictures show excitingly depicted groups of people furnished with lifelike details against shimmering, dreamlike backgrounds. This effect was achieved through a mysterious color scheme that mixes soft pastel colors with delicate gold leaf and silver.


Alternative Titles
Size / Format
330 pages / 27.0 × 21.0 cm
Carolingian minuscule Uncial Rustic capitals Square capitals
60 miniatures and over 240 decorated initials
The oldest picture cycle of the Vita Christi
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Codex Egberti – Ms. 24 – Stadtbibliothek (Trier, Germany) Facsimile Edition
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2005
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Codex Egberti

Jesus Faces Pilate

Jesus is shown having been brought before Pontius Pilate, arms held back by his accusers. The Apostle Peter, depicted with white hair and a beard, watches and weeps bitter tears of shame for having denied Jesus three times, a scene known as the Repentance of Peter. Pontius Pilate is shown leaning forward and listening closely. “Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’” (Matt. 27:11)

Single Page

Codex Egberti

Presentation Miniature

The opening scene of this Ottonian manuscript shows an archetypal “presentation miniature” in which Archbishop Egbert is being presented with the manuscript at hand, which was commissioned either by or for him. Pages detailing the patronage of a manuscript were more common in Ottonian art than in other eras.

Egbert is presented in the monumental Ottonian style with typified, flattened facial features against a purple background and framed with stylized tendrils embellished with gold pen strokes and contained within another frame of gold leaf. The humble artists are only a fraction of Egbert’s size, stressing his importance. Egbert’s square halo indicates that he is alive as he accepts the codex with his right hand while he holds the crosier in his left.

Facsimile Editions

#1 Egbert-Codex

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2005

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2005
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: Green silk binding typical of the Ottonian period featuring a front cover with a silver-plated metal depiction of Egbert. Complete with historic patina, it is based on the only surviving depiction of Egbert in metal, which is found on a reliquary for the True Cross in Mettlach, Germany. Protected in a slip case made of acrylic glass.
Commentary: 1 volume (248 pages) by Gunther Franz, Franz J. Ronig, Robert Fuchs, Doris Oltrogge, and Sif Dagmar Dornheim
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
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