Elements from the Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine periods: a masterpiece of stylistic pluralism from Germany

Goslar Gospels

Goslar (Germany) — Around 1240

Goslar Gospels

Goslar Gospels

Goslar (Germany) — Around 1240

  1. This large luxury manuscript was intended for use in church and other public displays to the faithful

  2. Indicators point to Goslar Convent in Lower Saxony as a probable place of origin for the incredible codex

  3. The text is a work of art in and of itself, the labor of a skilled scribe who masterfully executed the letters

Das Goslarer Evangeliar

Goslar Gospels

Incipit Page: Gospel of John

With a rich gold leaf background and strong primary colors, this is a fine specimen of German illumination spanning the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The elaborate column filled with scenes from the life of Christ as well as various drolleries serves as the “I” initial for the opening words of the Gospel of John: IN PRINCIPIO ERAT VERBVM ET VERBVM ERAT APVD DEVM ET DEVS ERAT VERBVM – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jhn. 1:1)

Goslar Gospels

Alternative Titles:
  • Goslarer Evangeliar
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

One of the most exquisite creations preserved to this day from the Staufer period: the Goslar Gospels. This is a large luxury manuscript intended for use in church and other public displays to the faithful. A full-page miniature prefixes each Gospel along with a full-page initial made to give the beholder an overall impression of the text that follows. The text is a work of art in itself, the labor of a skilled scribe who executed the letters with an instantly discernible mastery. The original luxury binding of the manuscript has also been preserved, sumptuous leather with gilded silver plate, with magnificent ornaments, embossing, filigree, precious stones (among them two antique gems), vitreous pastes and pearls.

Goslar Gospels

The Goslar Gospels, so called after its probable place of origin in Lower Saxony, is one of the most exquisite creations preserved to this day from the Staufer period. Totaling 30 illustrations of biblical scenes, it was meant to instruct both educated and lay readers in the word of God. The book owes its importance to a very special production and combines different elements of the most diverse styles in a wonderful new harmony. The gospel book was predominantly used in church services where the word of salvation was read to believers. As Jesus Christ himself is present in the Gospels, a gospel book was given the utmost veneration in liturgy. Its open pages were offered to the faithful to be kissed and it was carried around town in processions. It can thus be assumed that this sumptuous work was not only accessible to a few privileged visitors of a library but that the entire community could admire it.

The Sacred Texts of Christendom

The structure of the codex is in line with the usual Gospel tradition. The prologue, which contains epistulas and a preface by Saint Jerome (among them a typology of the Gospels and an explanation of the symbols attributed to the four Evangelists), a letter of Saint Eusebius (on the origins of the harmony of the Gospels) and a prologue on the Gospels by an anonymous writer, is followed by the four gospel texts which are in turn each introduced by a table of contents (”capitula”) and a prologue (”argumentum”).

A showpiece of German Book Illumination

This sequence of texts and their inner structure also determines the decorative pattern of the Goslar Gospels. A full-page miniature prefixes each Gospel along with a full-page initial made to give the beholder an overall impression of the text that follows. Saint Luke, to whom history attributes the highest credibility among all the Evangelists, was assigned an additional initial and miniature page. The richly gold embellished miniature pages each display two or more scenic illustrations which, like the episodes inserted into the initial pages, are illustrations of the four Gospels. The imaginative and inventive decoration with initials lend the text pages of the gospel book a very special charm, the initials being ornate in a different manner, according to the function they fulfil. Some of them are decorated with colorful rançons and small inserted drolleries on a gilded ground, but there are also finely outlined initials filled with gold rançons, and also golden letters on colored grounds, interlaced with fine scrollwork. The art of drawing and painting is practiced in a most sensitive manner throughout the Gospel, which thus belongs to the highest rank of illumination of its period.

A Beautiful and Fascinating Script

In addition to the precious quality of the pictures, which were meant to interpret the word of God for medieval believers, educated and laymen alike, the marvelous pages filled with script deserve the greatest attention. The scribe used a Gothic minuscule (textura), so typical of the first half of the 13th century, which he forms to a very beautiful script and wonderfully outbalanced letters. It must have been a very experienced copyist who wrote down the words of the Gospels with such great regularity, never negligent and with an ever-steady hand. When beholding the pages, one feels the great dignity of the medieval scribe to whom copying the word of God was in itself an act of worship.

The Binding

The facsimile edition is superbly bound in leather. The original manuscript, however, was protected in a binding of great artistic value, which has been preserved in its entirety up to this day, a very rare feature indeed. Although damaged in places and bearing the trace of time, it is still impressive with its fittings of gilded silver plate, with magnificent ornaments, embossing, filigree, precious stones (among them two antique gems), vitreous pastes and pearls. The upper plate shows a crucifixion scene in a Byzantine style, while the lower plate displays a silk embroidered Coronation of the Virgin. The topic illustrated on this plate leads us to assume that the adornment might have been the work of the nuns of Goslar Convent who wished to honor the Virgin Mary to whom their church was consecrated.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Goslarer Evangeliar
Size / Format
258 pages / 33.5 x 25.0 cm
Date
Around 1240
Language
Illustrations
30 illustrations of biblical scenes, throughout initial letters in gold
Das Goslarer Evangeliar

Goslar Gospels

Gospel of Mark

Each Gospel in this manuscript is prefaced by a full-page miniature combining an Evangelist portrait with two other scenes. In the top left we see Mark the Evangelist at his writing desk, to his right the baptism of Jesus, and below the commissioning of the Apostles. All three are backed by brilliantly burnished gold leaf, which further highlights the rich shades of red, blue, and green used by the artist.

The compositions are masterful, the figures are dressed in robes with a highly stylized, jagged fall of folds evocative of the emerging Zackenstil. There are also some curious details: hybrid creatures appear below the surface of the water in both biblical scenes. They represent the demons being left behind by the former pagans who are freed by baptism.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Goslar Gospels“

Das Goslarer Evangeliar
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
Goslar Gospels – Stadtarchiv Goslar (Goslar, Germany)
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Das Goslarer Evangeliar

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1990
Limited Edition
300 copies
Binding
Leather. All folios are cut according to the original. Facsimile and commentary volume in slip case.
Commentary
1 volume (132 pages) by R. Kroos, F. Steenbock, W. Milde, and D. E. Petersen
Language: German

The scholarly commentary, which is part of any facsimile edition, explains the manuscript and its background. Renate Kroos places the miniatures in a context of the history of art, Wolfgang Milde provides an introduction to the codicological analysis, Frauke Steenbock describes the binding, and Dag-Ernst Petersen explains both the methods used to produce the Goslar Gospels and its present state of conservation.

Scholarly commentary by R. Kroos, Munich, F. Steenbock, Berlin, W. Milde, Wolfenbüttel, D. E. Petersen, Wolfenbüttel. 132 pp., 38 black-and white ill. Binding: cloth.
More Information
All folios are cut according to the original.
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