Gospels of Henry the Lion

Gospels of Henry the Lion – Insel Verlag – Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)

Helmarshausen (Germany) — Around 1175–1188

Auctioned for 32.5 million D-marks, it was the most expensive work of art in the world for a long time: an opulently illuminated masterpiece of the German Romanesque period, created for Duke Henry the Lion, the great rival of Emperor Barbarossa

  1. The largest work of Romanesque illumination in northern Germany originated between 1175 and 1188

  2. It was created by the monks of Helmarshausen Abbey at the behest of Duke Henry the Lion (1129/31–1195)

  3. The rival of the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (1122–90) was also one of the greatest art patrons of the 12th century

Gospels of Henry the Lion

Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Description
Gospels of Henry the Lion

The Gospels of Henry the Lion is considered the greatest masterpiece of Romanesque book illumination in northern Germany. As one of the most magnificent and richly decorated illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, it remains exceptional to this day. It was commissioned by Duke Henry between 1175 and 1188 and produced by the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Helmarshausen. The religious duke was one of the richest and most powerful men of the 12th century and a great patron of the arts and literature. The 452-page manuscript is richly illuminated with masterful miniatures in bold colours and gleaming gold leaf. These are complemented by countless artistically designed initials, large and small, so that the beautiful Gospels have been admired for centuries for their astonishing ornamentation. In addition to the four Gospels, the manuscript contains the story of the salvation of Christianity in moving miniatures, which offer the viewer an insight into the religious world of the Gothic rulers.

The Gospels of Henry the Lion

One of the most magnificent and most elaborately decorated books of the Middle Ages originated from approximately between 1175 and 1188 from the German Benedictine abbey of Helmarshausen. Duke Henry the Lion commissioned the literate monks of the abbey to create a evangeliary for Mary’s altar in St. Blaise’s parish church in Brunswick. This beautiful work is the main piece of the Romanesque illumination of the 12th century in northern Germany. The evangeliary contains the four gospels and reveals the history of Christianity in moving miniatures. Overall, the manuscript is 226 pages long with fifty full page miniatures, seventeen canon boards, four pictures of the evangelists, nine ornamental pages and twenty portrayals. The entire text includes approximately 1,500 small, 77 big, and seven large richly decorated initials.

On Commission of the Duke

Henry the Lion was one of the greatest rulers from the House of Guelph. Between 1142 and 1180 he was the Duke of Saxony as well as the Duke of Bavaria from 1156 to 1180. The foundation of today’s state capital Munich can be traced back to Henry. In his role as Duke of Saxony he had decisive part in the coronation of his cousin Fredrick Barbarossa. They had a good political relationship with each other until they fell out in 1176. The duke refused to pledge his military support to the king. This means that Henry has been seen for a long time as the most important protagonist of the Staufer-Guelph opposition. The religious duke was one of the richest and most powerful men of the twelfth century and was regarded as a great patron of art and literature. Among his numerous donations of liturgical manuscripts to churches and monasteries, the evangeliary for St. Blaise’s church is the most distinguished and most famous.

A Dramatic History

The much detailed but still unexplained history of the manuscript leads from Brunswick to Prague, where it lay for hundreds of years in the library of St. Vitus’ Cathedral. In 1861, the manuscript succeeded to be recovered on the order of King George V through Hannover from Prague to Lower Saxony. In 1866 however, it went with the then powerless Guelphs in exile to Austria. From 1933 to 1983 the whereabouts of the manuscript was unknown. It first returned to public view at auction in London in 1983. Since then, the interest in the manuscript has been unbroken. One of the creators of the work has signed the book at the front with: liber labor est Herimanni – Monk Hermann made this book.

Fantastic Picture Decorations

The spellbinding evangeliary has impressed readers for many hundreds of years with its amazing book decorations. The numerous valuable pictures show a wide range of intense colors and are abundantly adorned with gold. The hand-painted scenes, which engage every reader, belong among the highest-quality illuminations of the Middle Ages. As well as depictions of Christian history there are also scenes that are dedicated to the customer of the valuable manuscript. One especially nice hand-painted full-page image depicts the coronation scene of Henry and his wife Mathilda, a daughter of King Henry II of England. Another scene shows the reigning couple being guided to an enthroned Maria and Henry offering her the evangeliary. The moving images enable their audience to dream and invite them on a journey into the spiritual world of the greatest rulers of gothic times.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Evangeliar Heinrichs des Löwen
Evangeliarium Heinrici Leonis
Size / Format
532 pages / 34.0 × 25.5 cm
Origin
Germany
Date
Around 1175–1188
Style
Language
Illustrations
50 full-page miniatures, 84 large and approx. 1500 smaller initials
Patron
Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria (reigned 1142–1180) and his consort Matilda, daughter of King Henry II of England (reigned 1154–1189)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Emperor Charles IV (1347–1378)
King George V of Hanover (reigned 1819–1878)
Guelph family

Available facsimile editions:
Gospels of Henry the Lion – Insel Verlag – Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1988
Limited Edition: 850 copies

Gospels of Henry the Lion – Bibliotheca Rara – Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Bibliotheca Rara – Münster, 1988
Limited Edition: 850 copies (100 copies: Imitation Leather Edition)
Detail Picture

Gospels of Henry the Lion

Christ in Majesty

The so-called Maiestas Domini is one of the most popular images in Western Christian art. Modelled on depictions of the Roman emperor, Christ is always depicted enthroned and framed by a mandorla. Meaning “almond” in Italian, a mandorla is an almond-shaped frame in which Christ is presented, usually surrounded by other religious figures or icons. Christ is depicted before a blue sky full of stars, seated on the lower band of the mandorla while resting his back against the upper band.

Gospels of Henry the Lion – Insel Verlag – Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Single Page

Gospels of Henry the Lion

Dedication image

In the lower register, Henry the Lion and his wife Matilda of England are led to an enthroned Virgin Mary in the upper register by the saints Blasius and Aegidius. Henry offers the manuscript at hand to the Queen of Heaven, flanked by John the Baptist and St. Bartholomew. This masterpiece was created by the monks of Helmershausen Abbey at Henry’s behest as a gift to Brunswick Cathedral, dedicated to St. Blaise, to celebrate the consecration of a new altar in honor of the Virgin Mary.

This page, aside from being informative, is an exemplary specimen of the late-Romanesque art found in this splendid manuscript. It is distinguished by its intense opaque primary colors, which are highlighted with expertly applied gold and silver, especially the filigreed backgrounds.

Gospels of Henry the Lion – Insel Verlag – Cod. Guelf. 105 Noviss. 2° – Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Evangeliar Heinrichs des Löwen (Leather Edition)

Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1988

Publisher: Insel Verlag – Frankfurt, 1988
Limited Edition: 850 copies
Binding: Red morocco leather binding with 5 genuine bands and two clasps Protective book case with brass application on cover
Commentary: 1 volume (335 pages) by Dietrich Kötzsche, Otto Oexle, Peter Ganz, Elisabeth Klemm, Peter Rück, Paul Schmidt, Renate Kroos, Ranier Kahsnitz, Otto Mazal, Lorenz Seelig and Klaus Jaitner
Languages: German
1 volume: 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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)

#2 Evangeliar Heinrichs des Löwen

Bibliotheca Rara – Münster, 1988

Publisher: Bibliotheca Rara – Münster, 1988
Limited Edition: 850 copies (100 copies: Imitation Leather Edition)
Binding: Imitation leather binding with lion-shape blind embossing
Commentary: 1 volume (335 pages) by Dietrich Kötzsche and Elisabeth Klemm
Languages: 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.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €€€
(3,000€ - 7,000€)
You might also be interested in:
Codex Purpureus Rossanensis – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Museo dell'Arcivescovado di Rossano Calabro (Rossano Calabro, Italy)
Codex Purpureus Rossanensis
Asia Minor – 6th century

Containing the earliest portrait of an Evangelist in book illumination: one of the oldest preserved and most fascinating Gospels in history, written entirely in gold and silver on purple parchment

Experience More
Blog articles worth reading
Filter selection
Publisher