1.2.4 Carolingian (768-900) and Ottonian (919-1024)

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CAROLINGIAN (768-900):
Lorsch Gospels
St Mark, Godescalc Gospels
St Mark, Ebbo Gospels
Ark of the Covenant
St Gregory disputing…
Utrecht Psalter
Codex Aureus of Emmeram, cover
Codex Aureus of Emmeram, Charles the Bald
Ivory Relief St Remigius
Equestrian Statue, Emperor

OTTONIAN (919-1024):
Holy Women at the Sepulchre
Basilewsky Situla
Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
Dedication Magdeburg Plaque
Gero Cross
Situla of Gotofredo
Gold Madonna of Essen
Munich Gospels of Otto III
Essen Cross
Bernward column
Bernward doors
Bamberg Apocalypse

CAROLINGIAN (768-900):

Carolingian art comes from the reign of Charlemagne and his immediate heirs, from the Frankish Empire. The art was for the emperor’s court circle or for the most important monasteries enjoying Imperial patronage, Material from outside this elite circle exhibit a lower quality of workmanship and less sophistication in design.

Carolingian Art was created in Austria, France, Germany, Austria, Italy (northern) and the Low Countries. The return to classical themes set the scene for Ottonian art and Romanesque art to follow.


The Lorsch Gospels aka Codex Aureus of Lorsch is from Charlemagne’s Court School. It is an illuminated Gospel Book written in Latin between 776-820.

The carved ivory cover panels (above) are important survivals from the period’s art and on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum London. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark are at the Batthyaneum Library, Alba Iulia, Romania. The Gospels of Luke and John are held by the Vatican Library.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: khanacademy.org

The Godescalc Gospel Lectionary was commisioned by Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard (781-783).
The lower image is an early portrait of St. Mark, has little or no shading. His seated position is not real, the left leg is in profile while the right is head on. The Carolingian artists sought to change this figurative art by restoring the classical third dimension.
This 816-835 representation of St Mark in the Ebbo Gospels is from the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers for Ebbo, Archbishop of Rheims. The perspective, shading and the complex lines of his clothing create an illusion of the evangelist’s body.
Image source: khanacademy.org

Image source: wga.hu

The one large extant work of art from Charlemagne’s time is a c800 mosaic of the Ark of the Covenant, with the ark protected by two angels. It is in the oratory of Theodulf of Orléans in Germigny-des-Prés, near Orléans, his bishopric.
There is only a limited number of surviving Carolingian frescoes, the Church of St. Benedict, Mals Italy has a number of these. The image is of Saint Gregory Disputing with Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon) (c825).
Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This line drawing is from the
9th c Utrecht Psalter. This sort of naturalistic drawing was new, but soon became a Carolingian innovation.
This is the cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, dated to 870. Charles the Bald, followed his grandfather’s example by establishing a Court School and several manuscripts are attributed to it. This is the last extant manuscript and perhaps their most ornate. The style was Charlemagne’s Court School but fused with elements taken from Tours and Rheims.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

From the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, is this illustration of Emperor Charles the Bald (823-877). He was a grandson of Charlemagne and the youngest son of Louis the Pious. His father had presided over a number of civil wars, Charles the Bald succeeded following the 843 Treaty of Verdun. The ‘bald’ sobriquet is conjectured perhaps to have been ironic and he was in fact quite hairy, or else referenced his lack of land, as the youngest he initially was given no sub-king title, as had his brothers.
This late Carolingian ivory binding, c. 870, shows miracles from the life of Saint Remigius. The top panel shows a moribund pagan asking St Remy to be baptised. At the centre, St Remy, finding a lack of batismal fluids, has placed two vials on an altar and the Hand of God fills them miraculously. At the bottom the dove of the Holy spirit delivering the Holy Ampulla at the Baptism of Clovis. Two ampules were found in the sepulchre of Remigius and were subsequently used to annoint kings of France.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: louvre.fr
This 25cm bronze, formerly gilded, statuette is said to be of Charlemagne or Charles the Bald as a horse-riding figure. It indicates the Carolingian emperors’ were inspired by equestrian statues from antiquity, such as that of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The emperor in holding a globe and a sword (missing), asserted his authority as a conqueror. This was found in the treasury of Metz Cathedral and is now on show at the Louvre

OTTONIAN (919-1024):

The Holy Roman Empire became the Saxon Ottonian dynasty that ruled Germany and Northern Italy, at the same time Carolingian art became Ottonian. Ottonian art was made for appreciation solely in imperial circles, the regional cities and monasteries.

Ottonian Art consisted mainly of religious themes and portable items for religious pilgrims. Early Ottonian art wass dense and somewhat gaudy, but the later works became freer and brighter.


An elephant ivory Plaque of the Holy Women at the Sepulchre. This was created in early 10th c and was probably made in Milan. It formed part of a decorative cover for a liturgical manuscript. The subject is three holy women arriving to anoint the body of Jesus at his burial place, the Holy Sepulchre,- depicted here as a two-storey cylindrical building. Roman soldiers are asleep at their posts. An angel informs them that Jesus has risen from the dead.
It is 19 x 11 x 0.8 cm and is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.

Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The ivory Basilewsky Situla dates to 920 is decorated with twelve scenes from the Life of Christ on two levels. It contains one of the very few depictions of Judas Iscariot showing remorse and throwing the thirty silver coins on the floor of the Temple.
The term Situla derives from the Latin for bucket. For another situla see below.
This ivory relief is from Constantinople and dates to 10th c. These are the forty Roman soldiers. serving Agricola in Armenia and being martyred for their Christian faith in 320. In 1499 Luca Signorelli produced a fresco at the Orvieto Cathedral , Paradise and Hell, in Umbria that uses a similar composition. It is held at the BODE Museum in Berlin Germany.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

One of the most famous ivory carvings to survive from the tenth century. An enthroned Christ blesses a model of the Magdeburg church, presented by Emperor Otto the Great. It became a Cathedral as the seat of an archbishopric in 968. It is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY Germany.
This 187 cm oak statue was fashioned in 965-970 and has always been held at Cologne Cathedral. It is called the Gero CRoss because it was commissioned by Gero, the then Archbishop of Cologne. The surround however is Baroque and added in 1683. It was large for its time, early to depict the crucified Christ realistically.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Dated to 979 this Situla of Gotofredo, was commissioned bythe archbishop of Milan, Gotofredo. It is held in the Treasury of the Milan Cathedral. It has anacanthus frieze at the top and a Greek motif running around the bottom. There are five images around the situla, the four evangelists and the Virgin holding the baby Christ flanked by two angels. Compare this with the Basilewsky Situla from several generations earlier.
This c980
statue has a wooden core coated by gold leaf. Known as the Golden Madonna of Essen it depicts the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus.
The piece is part of the treasury of Essen Cathedral

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Gospels of Otto III has 276 pages of parchment (33 x 24 cm), featuring twelve canon tables, a spread with the portrait of Otto, portraits of the four evangelists and twenty-nine other full-page miniatures.
The cover of the book is heavily jeweled with its centerpiece a Byzantine ivory inlay of the Dormition of the Virgin (the falling asleep of Mary before ressurection and her assumption to heaven. It was created at the Reichenau Abbey (998-1001).
The Essen Cross or Senkschmelz Cross, is considered an Ottonian goldsmithing masterpiece. It was created under Mathilde, Abbess of Essen. Senkschmelz refers to the five ‘sunk’ enamels, a form of cloisonné.
The central enamel is of the Crucifixion with Mary and St John, the four other large enamels show the symbols of the Evengelists.
It is made of oak and covered in gold at the front, inlaid with jewels and two pearls (46 x 33 cm). It is a processional cross held by the Essen Cathedral Treasury.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The bronze Bernward Column, was commissioned by Bishop Bernward c1000. It was for St. Michael’s Church in Hildesheim, Germany and originally had a crucifix above it. The column uses a helix like stream, as per Trajan’s Column, to depict images of the life of Christ. It was later moved to the Cathedral at Hildesheim.

The lower image shows one of the depicted stories – the Wedding at Cana.

The column is considered a masterpiece of Ottonian art.
The Bernward Doors are also bronze, and dating from c1015 are also at Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany, They too were commissioned by Bishop Bernward and show relief images from the Bible. There are scenes from the Book of Genesis on the left door and from the life of Jesus on the right. An Ottonian Masterpiece, they are said to represent the oldest known monumental image cycle in German sculpture, and the oldest cycle of images cast in metal in Germany. [What about the column above?]
The second image presents the story of Adam & Eve.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The Bamberg Apocalypse is an illuminated manuscript created during the Ottonian dynasty. It was commissioned by Otto III or Henry II between 1000-1020.

It was created at the scriptorium at Reichenau as a pictorial cycle of the Book of Revelation and offers a Gospel Lectionary, listing scripture readings for a given day or occasion. It is today in the Bamberg State Library.

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