The Ottonian Renaissance produced some of the greatest, most lavishly adorned and bound masterpieces of the entire Middle Ages. It was a rich but relatively short-lived renaissance associated with the Ottonian dynasty (919-1024), but which outlived them, gradually evolving into the German Romanesque.
Originating from only a few monasteries with incredibly talented scribes and illuminators, these manuscripts were primarily created for members of the Ottonian dynasty, some were commissioned by them as gifts, while others were made by monastic communities for their own use or were commissioned by a bishop for use in a cathedral. Stylistically, Ottonian manuscripts built on Carolingian traditions and consciously sought to imitate Late Antique and Byzantine artistic traditions. Ottonian Illumination is characterized by rich materials like Byzantine-style burnished gold backgrounds, gold and silver ink, and rich, flat colors from exotic materials.
Its compositions appear static, often relying on expressive glances and gestures with elongated fingers. This grand, monumental style of illumination was an expression of a renewed belief in the Holy Roman Empire, and a desire to be seen as equals by the Byzantines. Thus, splendid codices from that time were also used as political statements, and in their paintings the Ottonian kings and emperors had themselves crowned by God.