Bamberg Apocalypse

Msc.Bibl.140 - Staatsbibliothek (Bamberg, Germany)

Alternate Titles:

Bamberger Apokalypse, L'Apocalisse di Bamberg

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Alternate Titles

Bamberger Apokalypse
L'Apocalisse di Bamberg

Extent / Format

212 pages / 29.5 x 20.4 cm

Around 1000-1020

Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor (980 - 1002); Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor (972 - 1024)


57 miniatures and 103 initials, some of them full-page

Short description

A unique marvel of manuscript book art emerged from the scriptorium of the Reichenau Monastery between 1000 and 1020. The Bamberg Apocalypse, which has belonged to the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme since 2003, is the most famous and precious work of the Reichenau illuminators. It contains the only pictorial cycle of the Apocalypse that was produced by Ottonian illumination. The splendid, mostly full-page pictures on golden backgrounds possess and indescribable expressive power. The incomparable miniatures cast a spell on every beholder.

Facsimile editions available


Bamberg Apocalypse

Among the numerous significant books and documents to be found in the Bamberg State Library is a unique marvel of medieval book art. This is the Bamberg Apocalypse. This illuminated manuscript counts among the most famous works from the scriptorium of the Reichenau Monastery and is the only work of Ottonian illumination that contains a pictorial cycle of the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse, also known as the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. The biblical text is a coherent allegorical composition full of significant symbols, which has shaped and fascinated the Christian community for centuries. This important text is illustrated in the Bamberg Apocalypse through a total of 57 splendid, large-format miniatures on a gold background. Initials richly adorned in gold and silver further ennoble the work.

A Mysterious Masterwork

To this day, uncertainty about the exact time of origin reigns over the historical research of the Bamberg Apocalypse. Paleographic findings as well as iconographic and style-critical assessments date the work to the period between 1000 and 1020. More difficult yet is the determination of who commissioned the splendid codex. A miniature in the manuscript shows a representative portrait of a sovereign, in which the commissioner is assuredly depicted. However, it has been a matter of controversial debate whether the sovereign figure is Kaiser Otto III or Kaiser Henry II. Presumably, the manuscript was commissioned at the behest of Otto, and remained incomplete after the ruler’s unexpected death at the age of 21. Otto’s successor, Henry II, probably discovered the precious codex in the Reichenau scriptorium and had it completed. Old literary traditions tell of a binding that no longer exists. This documented the donation of the codex by Kaiser Henry II and his wife Kunigunde to the Bamberg Collegiate Church of St. Stephen.

Fascinating Illumination

The Bamberg Apocalypse is the greatest and most famous work from the scriptorium of the Riechenau Monastery. The monastery was the seat of the foremost scriptorium artistically in the entire Holy Roman Empire. The exciting miniatures of the Apocalypse represent the only cycle for this book from the Bible that was produced in all of Ottonian illumination. Accompanying scenes in high-quality colors and precious gold backgrounds allow the book pages to shine in a unique luster. The intense pictures display a characteristic manner of presentation, in which the people and faces were illustrated with expressive facial expressions and gestures. Even centuries after their production, the expressive illustrations cast a spell on each of their beholders. Alongside the splendid, mostly full-page miniatures, ca. 103 decorative initials adorn the codex. The gold or silver letters find themselves against backgrounds of purple, blue, or green and are outlined by gilded arabesques, which open up in clover like formations or arrowheads. These special embellishments are considered to be the trademarks of the Reichenau book artists.

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