Friday, September 30, 2022

The Gospel Book of St Henry II (Part 1)

St Henry II, the Holy Roman Emperor whose feast is kept in mid-July (973-1024), together with his wife St Cunegond of Luxembourg (975-1040), founded the Bavarian see of Bamberg in 1007. (Prior to his imperial coronation in 1014, he was the Duke of Bavaria.) For the consecration of the cathedral, he commissioned a Gospel book from the monastery of Reichenau, one of the most important Benedictine abbeys in the empire, and the center of an important contemporary school of painting and manuscript illumination. The manuscript (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 4452) has 28 full-page illustrations, and a great many decorated letters, although these latter are all quite similar to each other. This first article will show the illustrations up to Palm Sunday, and some other pages that exemplify the various kinds of decorations. The second part will include the illustrations from Holy Thursday to the end.

Henry was the last of the imperial dynasty which is called “Ottonian” from the name “Otto” shared by its first three emperors, a dynasty which ran from 919 to his death in 1024. The art of the Ottonian period moves strongly away from the naturalism of the classical world which the Carolingian era that preceded it sought to imitate. The human figures are stylized, mostly without expression or depth, and captured as they gesture without moving. The backgrounds are no more than bands of color, very often gold, since this is decidedly a luxury production. The contrast is immediately noticeable when one compares the late Carolingian ivory (ca. 870) on the front cover, looking at the highly naturalistic figure of Christ on the Cross, with the flatness of the figures in the image of Henry and Cunegonde being crowned by Christ.

The ivory plaque shows (from top to bottom; click to enlarge) the hand of God the Father coming down from heaven, with the sun and moon to either side, symbolically represented as figures driving chariots; three angels above the Cross; the Crucifixion, with the mourners and the soldiers, and Joseph of Arimathea speaking to Pilate (Joseph is shown as a nobleman of the early 11th century, carrying a war banner); the women at the tomb (a three-storied structure); the dead rising from their tombs, and symbolic figures of the sea, earth and underworld giving up the dead. At the corners of the gold frame are the symbols of the Four Evangelists in enamel medallions, and between them, slightly smaller enamels of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. Around the edge of the ivory runs an inscription written by someone anxious to show off his knowledge of Greek vocabulary.
“Grammata qui sophie querit cognoscere vere
Hoc mathesis plene quadratum plaudet habere.
En qui veraces sophie fulsere sequaces,
Ornat perfectam Rex Heinrih stemmate sectam.
He who seeks to know the letters of true wisdom / will rejoice in possessing this square (object) of the fullness of learning. / Behold those who shone forth as true followers of wisdom; King Henry adorns this perfect school with a crown.”

The dedicatory inscription, by which St Henry offers the Gospel book to the Apostles Peter and Paul, the titular Saints of Bamberg Cathedral.

“Rex Heinricus ovans, fidei splendore coruscans,
Maximus imperio fruitur quo prosper avito,
Inter opum varias prono de pectore gazas
Obtulit hunc librum, divina lege refertum,
Plenus amore Dei, pius in donaria templi;
Ut sit perpetuum decus illic omne per aevum.
Princeps aeclesiae, caelestis claviger aulae,
Petre, cum Paulo gentis doctore benigno
Hunc tibi devotum prece fac super astra beatum
Cum Cunigunda, sibi conregnante serena.
Hoc Pater, hoc Natus, nec non et Spiritus almus
Annuat, aeternus semper Deus omnibus unus.

King Henry, rejoicing, shining with the splendor of the Faith, / very great in the rule of his grandfather which he successfully holds, / among the varied treasures of his riches, from his heart inclined / offers this book, filled with the divine law, / being full of the love of God, dutiful in giving to the temple, / that it may be an everlasting glory there through every age. / Prince of the Church, key-bearer of the heavenly court, / Peter, with Paul, kindly teacher of the nations, / by your prayer, make this man devoted to you blessed above the stars, / with Cunigonde, his serene co-ruler. / May the Father, and the Son, and also the kindly Spirit / approve this, the one eternal God, ever above all.”

Christ crowning Ss Henry and Cunegonde, who are attended by Ss Peter and Paul. (The lack of depth characteristic of Ottonian art is particularly noticeable in the misplacement of St Paul’s arms.) Below are personifications of the provinces of the Empire; the three larger are probably meant to be Gaul, Italy and Germany, and the smaller, lower ones the German duchies of Bavaria, Swabia, Franconia, Saxony, Lower and Upper Lorraine. Over the upper scene is written,

“Tractando justum, discernite semper honestum.
Utile conveniat, consultum legis ut optat.

Doing what is just, always discern what is honorable; / may that which is useful fit with what the law requires.”

Below, “Solvimus ecce tibi, Rex, censum jure perenni.
Clemens esto tuis; nos reddimus ista quotannis.

Behold, we pay thee, o king, tribute by perennial law. / Be merciful to thine own; we render these things every year.”

The Four Evangelists, each accompanied by his traditional symbol and a poetic inscription. For St Matthew, “Res notat hic hominis Mathaeus, scriptor herilis. - This Matthew, the Master’s writer, notes the deeds of the man.”

St Mark: “Ut leo voce fremit, Marcus dum talia scribit. - As Mark writes such things, he roars like a lion.”

St Luke: “Ore canit vituli Lucas miracula Christi. - With the mouth (i.e. voice) of a bull, Luke sings of the miracles of Christ.”
St John: “Astra volando petens pandit secreta Joannes. - As he seeks the stars by flying, John lays bare the secrets.” (i.e. of Christ’s divinity.)

The beginning of the Gospel of Christmas Eve, Matthew 1, 18-21; the rest of the illuminated letters at the beginning of the Gospels look very much like this one throughout the book.

The first illustration of a Gospel, for the Midnight Mass of Christmas, Luke 2, 1-14, with the angel speaking to the shepherds.

The second image for Christmas is a highly stylized representation of the stable at Bethlehem, with Christ looking very much older than a newborn, and Bethlehem effectively floating in the featureless background. (I do not, of course, point these things out a criticism of the art or the period, but merely to note the differences in style from other periods.)

The text of the Gospel of the Midnight Mass.
The “rubric” introducing the Gospel of the Day Mass: “In die Natalis Domini. Initium Sancti Evangelii - On the day of the Lord’s Birth. The beginning of the Holy Gospel”
“Sec(undum) Johan(nem). In principio erat Verbum. - According to John. In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1, 1-14.)

The Three Kings present their gifts...
to the Virgin and Child on the Epiphany.
The Presentation of Christ in the temple, and Purification of the Virgin. (The altar of the temple looks very much like a modern Christmas present. Note how, with a total lack of concern for artistic realism, the toddler Jesus is effectively floating in front of His Mother’s hand, rather than supported by it.)
The Apostles fetch the donkey on Palm Sunday,
and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (In both of these images, the animals’ legs are comically misproportioned.)

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