Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire

SCHK.XIII.18 - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Weltliche Schatzkammer (Wien, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Codex Aureus, Krönungsevangeliar des Heiligen Römischen Reiches, Coronation Gospels of Charlemagne, Vienna Coronation Gospels, Treasury Gospels, Krönunsgevangeliar Karls des Großen, Wiener Krönungsevangeliar

Facsimile edition
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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Codex Aureus
Krönungsevangeliar des Heiligen Römischen Reiches
Coronation Gospels of Charlemagne
Vienna Coronation Gospels
Treasury Gospels
Krönunsgevangeliar Karls des Großen
Wiener Krönungsevangeliar

Type
Extent / Format

472 pages / 34.0 x 26.5 cm

Origin
Date
Shortly before 800
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Charlemagne (747-814)

Artist / School

Scribe and / or Illuminator: Demetrius presbyter
Cover: goldsmith Hans von Reutlingen

Illustrations

16 canon tables, 4 full-page evangelist portraits

Former owners

Emperor Otto III (reigned 996 - 1002)

Short description

The Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire, created in 800 in Aachen, represents a highpoint in Carolingian Manuscript Art. This work is centrally important, as it is one of the imperial crown jewels on which any of the Roman-German Kings must take their oath during their coronation. It is opulently configured in an evangelistary fashion. Sixteen canonical panels and four evangelical paintings decorate the artistic jewelry of the grandly crafted calligraphy, crowned with a quite lavishly expensive and artfully garnished cover. The masterfully worked golden cover is a Late Gothic Goldsmithing from the likes of Hans von Reutlingen, who added the finishing touches to the manuscript in 1500.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire

The Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire, also known as the Empire’s Gospel, represents a highpoint of Carolingian Manuscript Art. This work is centrally important, as it is one of the imperial crown jewels on which any of the Roman-German Kings must take their oath during their coronation. It is opulently configured in an evangelistary fashion. Sixteen canonical panels and four evangelical paintings decorate the artistic jewelry of the grandly crafted calligraphy, crowned with a quite lavishly expensive and artfully garnished cover.

Precious Materials and Art in the Ancient Tradition

The Coronation Gospels of the Holy Roman Empire is a tremendous work with an underappreciated meaning. All of the 236 pages are a deep purple parchment, whose extremely high value as a writing material adds to the symbolistic power of the book, also includes the pageantry of the four Gospels. Throughout these fine purple pages, the biblical passages are written in gold and silver, which each beginning of a chapter having an elaborately painting initial.
The Four Gospel Paintings derive most likely from many artists, who nonetheless attempted uniformity in style, as they aimed to mimic the ancient painting techniques of special and body perception. Wrapped in weak, white raiment, the Evangelists are enthroned like ancient Philosophers in the middle of the paintings, with a wide landscape and endless sky in the background. The artists of this Manuscript, who assumedly were from the Byzantine world, were attributed also to the Charles the Great’s Palace in Aachen. The 16 canonical archways are similarly underlined with the architectural elements of a combined ancient and medieval character.

The Binding

From the very first glance, the magnificent binding of this Manuscript catches one’s eye. The masterfully worked golden cover is a Late Gothic Goldsmithing from the likes of Hans von Reutlingen, who finished the embroidery 700 years later in the 15th Century, in order to instill the book with the finery necessary for the Coronation Gospels. A delicate relief with image of God the Father on His throne is in the middle of the scene of Annunciation, surrounded by the four Evangelist symbols in the corners, decorates the writing within. In this fine handmade work of craftsmanship, the glory of the gold is strengthened by the illumination of small diamond shards, with much more attention focused on the sapphire placed on the chest of God.

Historical Significance

In around 800, Charlemagne’s empire came into being, and the Coronation Gospel was righteously utilized by all of the Roman-German coronations, which without exception occurring in Aachen until 1531. The candidates would lay their hand over the manuscript as they took their solemn oath, always over the Gospel of John. Notably, a legendary incident also underlines the significances of this manuscript: it was allegedly laid at the feet of Charlemagne in 1000 upon the opening of his grave. Subsequently it was housed in Aachen as a relic of Charlemagne, and later on in 1811 was moved to Vienna to be placed with the other crowned jewels, in whose company this manuscript truly belongs. In the treasure chamber of the Art History Museum, one can see this book as one of the central highlights of the collection. Since the book is over 1200 years old, its fragility necessitates a climate controlled exhibition environment.

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