Stockholm Codex Aureus

Stockholm Codex Aureus

Canterbury (United Kingdom) — Ca. 750

This 1,200-year-old manuscript is one of the finest works of English illumination to be created during the entire Middle Ages

  1. This splendid Gospel Book originated during the mid-8th century in Anglo-Saxon Southumbria

  2. Half of the folios are dyed purple with the texts written in gold, silver, and white ink

  3. In the 9th century, the manuscript was looted by Vikings for its golden and bejeweled cover

Stockholm Codex Aureus

HS A 135 Kungliga Bibliotek (Stockholm, Sweden)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Stockholm Codex Aureus

The Stockholm Codex Aureus is the most spectacular manuscript to have been produced in the south of England during the Anglo-Saxon period. Created in the mid-8th century, most likely in Canterbury, the masterpiece combines the native Insular style with models from Late Antique art that were being produced in Italian and Byzantine manuscripts. The folios of the manuscript were alternately dyed purple, a further indication of how much was invested into the production of this precious codex. Two Evangelist portraits, six canon tables, and seven decorative initials adorn the text which is written in gold, silver, and white ink on the purple-dyed pages. The manuscript was originally housed in a luxurious golden cover, probably adorned with precious gems, but this was separated from the rest of the binding when it was looted by Vikings in the 9th century. After being bought back at ransom, the manuscript returned to Canterbury before making its way to Spain and finally Sweden.

Stockholm Codex Aureus

The region of Southumbria produced numerous splendid manuscripts during the Anglo-Saxon period, but the Stockholm Codex Aureus is undoubtedly the finest. Also called the Codex Aureus of Canterbury as a nod to its likely place of origin, it was created in the mid-8th century and has been richly illuminated in a combination of Insular, Italian, and Byzantine styles by artists using gold, silver, purple dye, and the finest pigments available during the period. Purple dye, a color previous reserved for commissions by the Roman emperors or their families, is an indicator of the manuscript’s illustrious origins as a commission from a high-ranking member of Anglo-Saxon society, perhaps even a king. The manuscript’s beauty has brought attention to it over the years from raiders and collectors alike and it continues to be studied as one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon illumination.

A Gorgeous Artistic Program

This large tome consists of a Gospel book with half of the folios dyed purple – thus the purple-dyed pages feature gold, silver, and white ink while the alternating undyed pages are written in black and red. The richness of the materials indicates that the manuscript could have originated as a royal commission, perhaps as a gift. Two of the four full-page Evangelist portraits survive along with six elegant canon tables and seven large decorative initials. The figures in the miniatures and the temples in which we find them are distinctly Late Antique in character and are modeled on specimens from Italian and Byzantine works of art. At the same time, the script and the Chi Ro initial in particular originate from the Insular style, which is especially evident in the intricate interlace patterns and animals that have also been incorporated into the canon tables and the architecture that frames the Evangelist portrait of Saint John. Text pages are colored to create carmina figurata poems formatted to form e.g. crosses and checkerboard patterns. An inscription indicates that the manuscript was made by four monks: Ceolhard, Niclas, Ealhhun, and a goldsmith named Wulfhelm. The Anglo-Saxons are famous for their jewelry and the now-lost luxury binding must have been a spectacular work of gold and precious gems.

A Well-Travelled Masterpiece

This coveted English manuscript has endured a tumultuous history over the last 1,200 years that has taken it from the shores of Britain to the Iberian Peninsula and Scandinavia. According to an inscription in Old English found above and below the text of the Gospel of Matthew, the manuscript was stolen by Vikings during a 9th century raid in Kent, stripped of its luxurious binding, and ransomed. The inscription states that the ransom was paid in gold by Ealdorman Aelfred and his wife Wærburh in order to save it from the heathens and that they were subsequently donated to Christ Church in Canterbury. It likely remained in Canterbury until the 16th century, when it came to Spain under mysterious circumstances, perhaps smuggled out by monks fleeing the dissolution of the monasteries during the English Reformation. The manuscript was purchased in 1690 from the famous library of Gaspar de Haro, seventh Marqués del Carpio (1629‒87) by the Swedish Swedish envoy and distinguished linguist and philologist Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld (1655‒1727). In 1705, Sparwenfeld donated the manuscript to the Royal Library, and it remains in the National Library of Sweden today.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Codex Aureus in Stockholm
Codex Aureus of Canterbury
Codex Aureus Holmiensis
Canterbury Codex Aureus
Size / Format
193 folios / 40.0 × 32.0 cm
Date
Ca. 750
Style
Language
Script
Insular Uncial
Illustrations
2 full-page portraits of the evangelists; 1 page with Christ's monogram (Chi-Rho); 8 decorated canon tables; gold, silver and white lettering on purple background throughout
Content
The four Gospels according to the Vulgate as well as preface and canon tables
Previous Owners
Ælfred and Wærburh
Catalina de Haro
Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeldt

Available facsimile editions:
The Codex Aureus
Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 2002
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Codex Aureus

Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 2002

Publisher: Rosenkilde and Bagger – Copenhagen, 2002
Commentary: 1 volume by Richard Gameson
Language: English
1 volume: This facsimile is not complete. 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.
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