Wednesday, October 05, 2022

The Gospel Book of St Henry II (Part 2)

This is the second set of images from a Gospel book commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor St Henry II and his wife St Cunegond at the beginning of the 11th century. It was made at the abbey of Reichenau for the cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul in Bamberg, Germany, a see which they founded. See the first part for some explanation of the artistic style:
By the time this was made, the common portrayal of Christ which we use today, with long hair, a full beard, and high cheek bones, was already standard, although not the universal standard. Here, He is shown throughout as beardless and younger, which suggests that the artists at Reichenau may have deliberately copied these images from an older prototype, possibly much older, possibly Byzantine. Also note the lack of depth and naturalism so typical of Ottonian art in the figure of Christ sitting at the table of the Last Supper, with legs that have no anatomical relationship whatsoever to His torso. The lower part shows the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Gospel of Holy Thursday in the Roman Rite (John 13, 1-15.) In the corner, one of the Apostles is shown putting his shoes back on, a gesture of realism which also suggests that the artist, who does very little of this kind of thing elsewhere, worked from a prototype of an older artistic school closer to the naturalism of the ancient Roman tradition.
The first image accompanying the Passion of St John on Good Friday (chapters 18 and 19). In the lower part, Christ is brought before the high priest Caiaphas. Having no notion of what a Jewish priest might look like, the artist has shown him more or less as any magistrate sitting on a throne; were it not for the rending of his garments, (which is recounted in the passions of Matthew and Mark, but not in John’s), we might well think he was Pilate. In the upper part, the Crucifixion: as was commonly done in the early Middle Ages, Christ the King is seen on the Cross fully awake and in triumph, rather than suffering. Note that neither His head nor arms nor torso slumps down, to indicate that even in the midst of His Passion, He is still the creator and sustainer of the universe.

On the second page, the deposition from the Cross and the burial, with the sun and the moon shown covering their mouths and looking away, to convey their astonishment and horror.
The Gospel of Easter, with the myrrh-bearing woman...
and the Angel.
The Ascension
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
Christ speaking to the disciples, representing the Gospel of Pentecost and its vigil (John 14, 15-21 and 23-31), words which He spoke during the Last Supper, promising that He would send “another Paraclete ... who will teach you all things.”
The Nativity of St John the Baptist: his father Zachary is visited by the angel Gabriel while offering incense in the temple, and is then unable to speak to the crowd after being struck dumb.

The birth itself, and Zachary writing the words “His name is John.”
Ss Peter and Paul
The Assumption
Christ in the house of Mary and Martha, the Gospel of the Assumption, Luke 10, 38-42.  
The opening words of the Gospel; this kind of rich decoration appears only on a small number of pages, with the Gospels of a few of the most important feasts.

The Gospel for the dedication of a church, Luke 19, 1-10, Christ and Zacchaeus the Publican. 
Two pictures for the Gospels of Masses for the Dead; the general resurrection...

and the final judgment.
The back cover, with silver tondos of the Lamb of God and personifications of the four cardinal virtues.

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