Echternach Pericopes

ms. 9428 - Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles, Belgium)

Alternate Titles:

Echternacher Evangelistar

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Echternacher Evangelistar

Type
Extent / Format

310 pages / 20.5 x 14.7 cm

Origin
Date
Around 1030
Style
Genre
Language
Illustrations

41 mostly full-page miniatures, 13 generously decorated text pages and more than 250 lavishly ornate gold initials

Short description

The Echternach Pericopes came from the scriptorium of the Salian Abbey of Echternach and arose ca. 1030. It is the most splendid and precious codex from the famous abbey and contains liturgical texts from the four Gospels, arranged according to the holidays of the church year. This masterwork of illumination is furnished with numerous wonderful paintings, which are embellished with gold, purple, silk, and the costliest of dyes.

Facsimile editions available

Description

The Echternach Pericopes

In the 11th century the Salian abbey of Echternach, whose history goes back to A.D. 690, possessed one of the most famous scriptoria in the medieval world and one of the most splendid libraries in all of the Occident. A gem originating from this writing workshop was the Echtenach Pericopes. The corpus is a collection of excerpts from the Pericopes that are ordered around the feast days of the church calendar and are intended for reading during mass. On 155 pages decorated in the most luxurious manner, the stories of the Bible are recorded in word and illustration.

The Salian Book Hoard

The Echternach Pericopes originated in 1030. At this time, the scriptorium of the Salian house monastery was in its most creative period. The corpus is not the result of a special commission, but rather the monks of the abbey kept the luxuriously decorated book as proof of their artistic ability and to assure their place in the highest tier of Occidental book art. Today this fine manuscript is to be found in the Royal Belgian Library in Brussels.

A Firework of Book Illustration

The monks of Echternach shied away from neither cost nor labor for the numerous decorations of the manuscript. The corpus begins with a true masterpiece of miniature painting. A full-paged depiction of the Maiestas Domini, the beloved image of Christ on his throne surrounded by four symbols of the pericopes, was painted in the charmingly simple color scheme of kingly purple and gold. Following this work of art are the portraits of the four evangelists and a few depictions of other saints, for which nonetheless no luxurious gold elements were spared. In total one finds 41 illustrations decorated with gold, 13 richly appointed pages of text, and more than 250 bold multiline initials in the codex.

Originals from Echternach

The Echternach Pericopes are especially interesting not only because of the impressively expensive materials that were chosen, but also for its thrilling new style of manuscript illumination. At first glance, the depictions appear to be rather simple, however upon further examination, the various influences that the Echternach monks combined with one another become apparent. Late Antique, Byzantine, and Carolingian examples served them, but they also found inspiration from contemporary painting techniques. The result was an unmistakable collection of stirring pictures of the life of Jesus Christ, scenes of which are depicted in a manner never before seen.

Inspiring New Stories in Pictures

A few details of the corpus are especially worthy of note, which one could say mark a revolution of monastic book making. The Annunciation to the Shepherds is a distinctive feature. The scene was not treated as a part of Christ’s birth, as had been previously done, but stood instead as its own extensive and cohesive miniature. Luminous colors were chosen, which interact brilliantly within golden framing. Additionally, one finds a first-time picture cycle of the story of St. Stephen, which depicted prospecting by the common people, which thematized the search for and finding of the martyr’s legs. Astonishingly exact pictures show workers with hammers and shovels, vintners who were paid for their services with gold pieces, and further everyday scenes from medieval life that were previously never held to be worthy of depiction. The Echternach Pericopes, with this sprawling diversity of stories and richness of illustration, created something to inspire the beholder to this day.

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