Codex Egberti

Ms. 24 - Stadtbibliothek (Trier, Germany)

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Extent / Format

330 pages / 27.0 x 21.0 cm


Archbishop Egbert of Trier (950 - 993)

Artist / School

Master of the Registrum Gregorii


60 illuminated pages and over 240 decorated initials

Short description

The Codex Egberti is not only the oldest codex worldwide, which presents the wondrous and painful story of the life and deeds of Christ in pictures. It is simultaneously one of the most exciting and splendid codices that was created during the artistic epoch of Ottonian illumination. The work was created in the scriptorium of the Reichenau monastery between 980 and 993 at the behest of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier. Two monks from Reichenau followed the instructions of the so-called Gregory Master. The unbelievably precious manuscript shows dreamlike spiritual miniatures in high-quality colors and is adorned with rich gold and silver.

Facsimile editions available


Codex Egberti

During the time of the Ottonian emperors, an illumination style developed within the Holy Roman Empire, which distinguished itself in its monumental and narrative miniatures. Today, the illuminated manuscripts of the Ottonian style count among the most valuable manuscripts in the history of illumination. A magnificent codex from this art-historical period is the so-called Codex Egberti. This work was made for Egbert, the Archbishop of Trier, and is the first codex in the world whose pictorial decoration was concerned with the life of Christ. The Book contains 60 miniatures, whose design was predetermined and overseen by a talented illuminator with the name of convenience ‘Gregory Master’. The illuminated pages sparkle and shimmer in magnificent colors and noble pictorial backgrounds. Additionally, over 240 decorative initials adorn the pages of the splendid codex.

Art from the Reichenau Monastery

Archbishop Egbert von Trier, is considered by historians to be a one of the greatest lovers and collectors of books during the second half of the 10th century. The great patron of scholarship and art worked with the Reichenau Monastery, which was one of the most important centers of European art at that time. Egbert’s trusted scribe and illuminator was the Master of the Restrum Gregorii, the Gregory Master, who lived in the scriptorium of the Abbey of Trier and carried on correspondence with contemporary illuminators. The master’s art is strongly influenced by Insular and Byzantine Illumination. His knowledge and talents are displayed in the seven miniatures of the codex that he personally created himself. The remaining miniatures were completed by the monks Kerald and Heribert of Reichenau. Both of the gifted painters closely adhered to the pictorial program worked out by the Gregory Master, so that the miniatures of the Egbert codex tell the tale of the life of Christ in interrelated pictures**.

A Historically Significant Work

This Codex Egberti is a Pericopes or Evangeliary, which contained the gospel texts that were read during mass in the course of a year. Egbert commissioned it for the purpose of using it during mass. It was **used in St. Paul’s in Trier until the 18th century. During the Second World War, it was next stored in a bombproof tunnel in the Pallien quarter of Trier, but was nonetheless transported to the library of the University of Gießen for safe-keeping in the face of the advancing Americans. This library was largely destroyed by a bombing on December 11, yet the Codex Egberti survived the attack marvelously. Alongside other Reichenau manuscripts, it was admitted to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list in April of 2004.

Impressive Miniature Painting

The Codex Egberti is the oldest manuscript that recounts the Life of Jesus Christ. The sublime, spiritual likenesses represent the ** events of Christ’s life from birth up to the Ascension** and depict the Savior’s miracles in the Holy Land, which are to be found in no other manuscripts. The miniatures are clearly influenced by paradigms from Late Antiquity and Byzantium, though the artists simultaneously developed **new iconographic ideas in their painting. The work opens with a double-page portrait of the bishop in gold and purple. Two monks are depicted at the feet of Egbert, namely the artists Kerald and Heribert, who delivered the work to the bishop. Four vivid, full-page depictions of the Evangelists follow this monumental likeness. Hereupon follow 51 narrative, diligently-composed miniatures concerning the life and works of Christ. The pictures show excitingly depicted groups of people furnished with lifelike details against shimmering, dreamlike backgrounds. This effect was achieved through a **mysterious color scheme that mixed soft pastel colors with delicate gold leaf and silver.

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