The bridge between the Ottonian and Romanesque styles: an unfinished masterpiece from Reichenau Abbey

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Monastery of Reichenau (Germany) — 2nd half of the 11th century

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Reichenau Gospel Lectionary

Monastery of Reichenau (Germany) — 2nd half of the 11th century

  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

Alternative Titles:
  • Reichenau Evangelistary
  • Das Reichenauer Evangelistar
Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

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.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Reichenau Evangelistary
Das Reichenauer Evangelistar
Size / Format
182 pages / 28.0 x 21.0 cm
Date
2nd half of the 11th century
Language
Illustrations
29 miniatures, either full-page or in stripes, with rich gold ornaments, 6 ornamental pages and numerous splendid initial letters

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Reichenau Gospel Lectionary“

Das Reichenauer Evangelistar
Reichenau Gospel Lectionary – Codex 78 A 2 – Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Berlin, Germany)
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Das Reichenauer Evangelistar

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1972
Binding
Parchment, according to the character of the manuscript.
Commentary
1 volume (98 pages) by P. Bloch
Language: German

Peter Bloch is the author of the expert commentary which provides an introduction into codicological and art historic aspects of the Gospel Lectionary of Reichenau.

Art historical and codicological description by P. Bloch, Berlin. 98 pp. text, 23 plates with 86 illustrations.
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