Gold and purple for the king: the only preserved royal Ottonian prayer book

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Germany — 983-991

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Germany — 983-991

  1. A work probably commissioned by the Byzantine princess and Empress Theophano (ca. 955-90) for her son Otto III (980-1002)

  2. The imperial commission is ennobled with gold script on purple grounds

  3. In addition to the prayer texts, there are also full-page miniatures in the only surviving royal Ottonian prayer book

Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Crucifixion

While earlier depictions of the Crucifixion showed all three crosses and various figures, artists began reducing the scene to its most basic elements in the 10th century. Thus, this scene shows just Christ Crucified flanked by the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist, and two angels. Shimmering gold leaf halos attract attention to the surprisingly individualized and expressive faces of the figures, and also contrast wonderfully with the purple background that has faded to blood-red with time.

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Alternative Titles:
  • Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The Royal Prayer Book of Otto III has a unique place in history as the only surviving royal prayer book from the Ottonian era. Its exceptional worth is indicated not only by the miniatures, but also the script in gold on purple vellum. One can still immerse themselves today in the splendor of the private prayer book of the king and emperor.

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

The Royal Prayer Book of Otto III has a unique place in history as the only surviving royal prayer book from the Ottonian era. Its exceptional worth is indicated not only by the miniatures, but also the script in gold on purple vellum. One can still immerse themselves today in the splendor of the private prayer book of the king and emperor.

Ottonian Book Art

The Royal Prayer Book of Otto III originates from between 983 and 991 and still presents us today with the exceptional artistry and splendor of early medieval illumination. The manuscript has the unusual yet practical format for a private prayer book of 15 x 12 cm. The prayer book served the boy king and later emperors not only for immersion in the world of faith, but also to convey the foundations of early medieval understandings of sovereignty. Christian faith and the ideal ruler of the Ottonian Emperor were closely interconnected. The book was probably commissioned by Otto’s mother, the Byzantine Princess Theophano, or by her advisor, Archbishop Willigis von Mainz. It originates from between the crowing of the three-year-old Otto in 983 and the death of Theophano in 991.

A Kingly Work of Art

Each individual page of the prayer book bears witness to the worth of the manuscript. The prayers were applied to the most expensive painting surface: purple vellum. Additionally the pages were colored with the costly dye from the glands of the purple snail. Luminous gold ink was used against this dark background. To increase the splendor even more, 25 large gold initials are integrated into the text. There are also five pages of miniatures that buttress the worth of the manuscript. Although it was the private prayer book of Otto III, the monastic ideal ruler was also illustrated in the picture. The king himself is pictured in the miniatures. Three of the five miniatures show the portrait of the king. The scenes allow divine events to unfold before the eyes of the beholder during the prayer. In the pictures that Otto himself is a part of, he leads the event more emphatically still before our eyes. Thus the ruler is depicted on the side across from the crucifixion of Christ in the picture of the deesis surrounded by Christ and the saints. The second pair of pages of miniatures show Christ enthroned and flanked by angels in a mandorla on the recto page. The opposite page shows King Otto meekly laying on the ground. Finally, the dedication picture, in which King Otto receives the manuscript from a cleric, is especially impressively designed and is found next to the dedication poem of the author.

The Unique Historical Significance of the Manuscript

The significance of the manuscript is constituted not only through its artistic and art historic worth and the magnificence of the materials. The 1,000+ year-old codex is also a historical artifact of the highest worth. As the only surviving royal prayer book from the Ottonian era, the Royal Prayer Book of Otto III is a prominent historical monument and unique work of art. After the death of the emperor, the manuscript passed through many stations to Weissenstein palace in Pommersfelden and in 1994 finally came to Munich in the Bavarian State Library as a spectacular acquisition.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.
Size / Format
88 pages / 15.0 x 12.0 cm
Origin
Germany
Date
983-991
Language
Illustrations
5 full-page miniatures, 25 golden initials that extend over several lines and countless small initials at the beginning of each sentence, written completely in gold on a purple background
Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.

Royal Prayer Book for Otto III

Dedication Image: Otto III. Receives the Book from a Cleric

Unlike a patron portrait, a dedication image, also known as a presentation miniature, shows the recipient being presented with the manuscript, either by its patron or more often by the artist or scribe who completed it, as in this case. Despite the small size of this personal manuscript, a rarity in Ottonian art, the image maintains the solemn, monumental aesthetic of the style.

Purple, the imperial color, dominates the image and is wonderfully contrasted by the pale architecture, drapery, and simple robes of the monk. Otto is richly dressed in the style of a Roman Emperor and his crown, robes, throne, the codex, and the drapes are all accented with shimmering gold leaf. The fall of folds and facial expressions are particularly accomplished.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Royal Prayer Book for Otto III“

Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
Royal Prayer Book for Otto III – Clm 30111 – Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich, Germany)
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Königsgebetbuch für Otto III.

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Faksimile Verlag – Luzern, 2008
Limited Edition
980 copies
Binding
The original binding of the Royal Prayer Book for Otto III has meanwhile been lost. The facsimile volume was modelled on a Byzantine silken binding (Museum August Kestner, Hanover) that imitated the binding of the Ottonian Abba Codex. Both the facsimile volume and the commentary volume are presented in a noble leather case with the replica of two Byzantine ivory plates from the Aachen Cathedral Treasury. The two decorative plates were first part of a foldable altarpiece and were later integrated in a book cover.
Commentary
1 volume by Elisabeth Klemm, Hermann Hauke and Georg Minkenberg
Languages: English, German
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