Mainz Gospels

Mainz Gospels – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. 13 – Hofbibliothek (Aschaffenburg, Germany)

Mainz (Germany) — 1230–1250

A German Codex Aureus in the Mainz cathedral treasure: written with golden ink and adorned with bright miniatures in a jagged style

  1. A masterpiece of the unmistakable Gothic Zackenstil in luminous pictures on gold grounds

  2. Additionally, the Bible text is completely written in gold ink, making it a Codex Aureus

  3. Its Textura is considered to be the most beautiful Gothic script and served as a template for Johannes Gutenberg (ca. 1400–68)

Mainz Gospels

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Mainz Gospels

An influential masterpiece: the Mainz Gospels is completely written using gold ink in a script that was used as a model by Johannes Gutenberg for creating his printed typeface. Furthermore, its famous Zackenstil or “jagged style” miniatures are a highpoint of the 13th century and are reminiscent of the grand Gospel books produced by Carolingian and Byzantine artists. However, these 71 masterful miniatures with burnished gold backgrounds – some of them full-page – possess a dynamism and naturalism that its predecessors lack. From the quality of the materials to the refinement and uniformity of the artistry, this early Gothic masterpiece is a wonder to behold.

Mainz Gospels

The Mainz Gospels represents one of the most important testimonies of 13th century German book art. The masterful manuscript is so richly and artistically hand decorated with gold and silver that only one tiny group of people could have made it. So the assumption can be made that the then archbishop of the prosperous and influential diocese of Mainz must have been either the patron of this gold codex or was gifted it. The treasured book was a part of the treasury of Mainz Cathedral from its completion in 1250 until it was attained by the Aschaffenburg library in Lower Franconia during the secularization of 1803. The book is still guarded as a treasure there today.

Sacred Text – Golden Script

Like all gospels, the Mainz Gospels contains the good news of the New Testament. It was written in pure gold ink in order to emphasize the holiness of the Gospels according to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. In contrast, the less-holy texts before and after, the canon tables and commentary, are written in black and clearly indicate where the reader ought to direct his attention. The Textura script with which the Mainz Gospels was written is considered to be the most beautiful script of the Gothic era. Its symmetry is a further indication of the weight of the holy words. It was not for nothing that even Gutenberg stuck closely to this calligraphy as he was making the nearly 300 letters required for his famous bible. The splendor in imagery and material of Mainz Gospels clearly refers back to the heyday of gospels from the Carolingian and Ottonian epochs.

Early Gothic “Zackenstil”

The iconography clearly indicates the heritage of the Reichenau and Echternach schools of painting: luminous colors set against gold backgrounds and clear contours – such as the lavish picture cycle of the life of Christ. No less than 71 miniatures, some full-page, were created by the anonymous painter, which visualize the stories of Jesus’ life and suffering from the cradle to the Resurrection. The Mainz Gospels stands alone in its opulence among the book treasures of the 13th century. During this time period, as the Gothic style was conquering France and Germany, the painting also went in new directions. The so-called early-Gothic “Zackenstil” was among these new inventions. This distinguished itself with the snappy contours of the garments of the persons depicted. Another change was the transition of the pictures from the horizontal Romanesque orientation to the vertical Gothic: painters of the 10th and 11th centuries were anxious to depict everything important horizontally in one level, so the masters of the 12th century decided to change in order to allow their figures to reach upwards. They benefited as a result because it gave them opportunities for a new, almost relief-like painting technique. This splendor is matched by the text, where one finds finely drawn canon tables and over 300 large and small golden and embellished initials.

Bathed in Light like a Gothic Cathedral

The golden codex from Mainz enchants as soon as one lays their eyes upon it because of its glimmering gold. The golden miniatures correspond to the reflective text written in gold ink. Not only are many of them painted against a gold background, they also feature gorgeous pastel colors: violet and blue, pink and purple, the corresponding silk, and intensive full color. All of that comes together in a rush of color, which accentuates the gold even more.


Alternative Titles
Mainzer Evangeliar
Size / Format
200 pages / 35.3 × 27.0 cm
Gothic Textura
71 miniatures (some full-page) and 300+ decorative initials
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John written entirely in gold ink
Archbishop of Mainz

Available facsimile editions:
Mainz Gospels – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. 13 – Hofbibliothek (Aschaffenburg, Germany)
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2007
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Mainz Gospels

Incipit Page: Gospel of John

This page introducing the Gospel of John is a marvelous mixture of gold leaf and strong primary colors, all executed with incredible symmetry and attention to detail. John the Apostle is seated within the “I” initial, hard at work, while the famous first words of the unique Gospel appear to the right: In principio erat verbum et verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat verbum “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1)

Mainz Gospels – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. 13 – Hofbibliothek (Aschaffenburg, Germany)
Single Page

Mainz Gospels

Death, Burial and Resurrection of Christ

The cycle most central to Christian theology ending with Christ’s triumph over death is normally broken up into separate miniatures, but is united into a single page here in order to impart a feeling of completeness and dynamism. Part of this dynamism also comes from exceeding the frames: the cross overlaps with the frame at the top, as does Christ’s staff in the lower right quadrant, making them appear as though they are coming out from the page.

The composition is a masterpiece of the Zackenstil or “jagged style”, an early Gothic form of illumination particular to Germany. It is a highly stylized development of Roman and Byzantine forms characterized by garments with sharp folds and contours, emotionally expressive faces, and burnished gold backgrounds.

Mainz Gospels – Faksimile Verlag – Ms. 13 – Hofbibliothek (Aschaffenburg, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Mainzer Evangeliar

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2007

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 2007
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: As a model and worthy replacement for the original binding of the Mainz Gospels, which was lost in the course of time - a common fate of many precious splendid bindings - the binding of the Preetz Gospels, also created in the 13th century, was chosen. The facsimile edition features a binding of the finest dark leather and is decorated with blind-stamped lines and an inset silver plate. Five silver-gilt medallions with the four Evangelist symbols and a depiction of Christ enthroned in the center are applied to the silver plate as decorative elements. A gilded edges enhance all leaves of the volume on three sides.
Commentary: 1 volume by Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck
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
Price: Log in here!
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