Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)

Monastery of Reichenau (Germany) β€” 2nd half of the 11th century

The transition from the Ottonian to the Romanesque style: an unfinished masterpiece from the famous Reichenau monastery

  1. During the Ottonian age, splendid Reichenau manuscripts were created for the upper crust of the empire

  2. This unfinished illuminated manuscript marks a period of transition from the Ottonian to the Romanesque

  3. The miniatures have a distinct figurative style with sweeping gestures that enhance their expressiveness

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Situated at Lake Constance, at the foot of the Alps, Reichenau Abbey's scriptorium was responsible for some of the greatest illuminated manuscripts in all of European history and was preeminent among European scriptoria ca. 1000. During the Ottonian age, splendid Reichenau manuscripts were created for high ranking clientele such as Otto III, Henry II, or Egbert, the Archbishop of Trier. The Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau is an unfinished illuminated manuscript that appears to have been intended for an important patron or as a gift because its dedication page features an enthroned monarch. This manuscript is significant for research into the development of the Reichenau school because it originated during a period of transition, thus combining typical Ottonian artistry with new innovations. This manuscript represents a key piece of evidence for art historical researchers as well as a fascinating work of art for lovers of illuminated manuscripts.

Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau

The Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau was made over 900 years ago in the scriptorium of Reichenau Abbey, then the most important painting school of the West, and is considered to be the key work for the evaluation of Reichenau book painting. All 182 pages (91 folios) of this Gospel Lectionary present the central lessons of the history of Salvation to the reader. The miniatures, inserted sometimes as full pages, sometimes as strips, are lavishly embellished with gold and still entirely in the tradition of Ottonian art. It is these miniatures that enchant the reader with the delicate charm so characteristic of the Reichenau school. The fixed order of the pictorial arrangements, a heritage of Ottonian art, unexpectedly combines with an expressive figurative style to overcome the statuary stiffness, long before Romanesque tradition saw the light of day. Wide swinging gestures lend a strong momentum to the pictures and the enhancement of mimic expression provides the Biblical narrative with emotion and vividness. The close juxtaposition of different style elements makes the Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau a product, typical of a transitionary phase that is clearly marked by both traditional elements and a new beginning, thus forming a truly unique synthesis, in an unmatched combination.

A Book of Liturgy

The text of the Gospel Lectionary is written in Carolingian minuscule and ornamented with a great wealth of luxurious initials. It starts with one of the four prefaces to the Gospel Book, the third preface of Hieronymus, which is followed by the four prologues introducing the individual Gospels. The Gospel Pericopes start with the lecture In vigilia nativitate domini and continue with lectures of the ecclesiastical year, from Christmas to Easter and the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, to end with the four Sundays of Advent, the feast days of the saints and a series of votive masses.

A Precious Gift for a Sovereign

The overall character of the manuscript is that of an unfinished work. Some pictures are missing and the miniature of the birth of St. John the Baptist remained unfinished. This is all the more surprising as it was conceived as a gift for a high-ranking personality, judging from the donor’s portrait. The dedication picture shows a crowned sovereign, in his left hand an orb with an eagle. A monk to his left hands him a book, no doubt the Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau. Very little is known concerning the identity of the sovereign depicted in this dedication picture. Besides Henry IV, Henry III was mentioned time and again as receiver of the manuscript. Perhaps the sovereign on the one hand and the unfinished state of the codex on the other can be explained by their common historic background: the manuscript might have remained unfinished as the occasion of its donation was no longer valid.

A Unique Manuscript

Although a number of questions are left unanswered, this manuscript is a typical example for a transition phase. Its expressive movements and vivid illustration of the Biblical narrative show a variation of the Ottonian canon of forms. Imperial traditions combine with an effort for purity in both script and liturgy.


Alternative Titles
Reichenau Evangelistary
Das Reichenauer Evangelistar
Size / Format
182 pages / 28.0 Γ— 21.0 cm
2nd half of the 11th century
Carolingian minuscule Rustic and square capitals
29 miniatures, either full-page or in stripes, with rich gold ornaments, 6 ornamental pages and numerous splendid initial letters
Gospel Book

Available facsimile editions:
Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Detail Picture

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Adoration of the Magi

Stylistically uniform, the miniatures of this manuscript are characterized by individualized depictions of the figures with emphasized gestures. The Three Kings are a good example of this: one is a young man with a red beard, another has a black beard that is going grey, and the third has a white beard. All the figures have elongated fingers from the Baby Jesus making the sign of benediction, to the Magi presenting gifts, to the Virgin Mary extending her hand to receive them. Unlike the rest of the figures, who have pink complexions, Mary is pale white.

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Single Page

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Dedication Portrait of…Whom?

This is a perfect example of a late-Ottonian miniature of an enthroned and crowned monarch, holding a globe with an imperial eagle in this case, being presented with a codex. However, the identity of the figure remains unknown and is tied to the debate over whether the manuscript was created in the 1050’s or the 1070’s as a commission of either Emperor Henry III or Henry IV.

Aside from the artistic balance between the Ottonian tradition and new Romanesque innovations, those arguing for an earlier date point to the incomplete state of the manuscript, including this image: unlike the face of the scribe presenting the codex, both the face of the emperor and of his arm bearer are unfinished sketches. This points to Henry III, who died in 1056, which would explain why the manuscript was never completed, but this still open to debate.

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Reichenauer Evangelistar

Publisher: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Binding: Parchment binding befitting the character of the original manuscript
Commentary: 1 volume (98 pages) by Peter Bloch
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: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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