A Peek Into Ottonian Splendor: The Bamberg Apocalypse

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Between the 10th and 11th centuries, Germany became the center of European book illumination due to the brightly colored surfaces, sumptuous gold, and spiritual intensity of its manuscripts. Scroll down to see the video!

Detail of the Bamberg Apocalypse

Bamberg, the ancient center of Upper Franconia, is the birthplace of the most famous illuminated manuscript tied to the city’s memories: the sumptuous Apocalypse of the Ottonian age and a masterpiece of the Reichenau school.

The Bamberg Apocalypse is among the most astonishing illuminated medieval manuscripts and the only illustrated cycle of the Apocalypse produced by Ottonian book painting

The codex’s most amazing and spectacular illustrations are at the very beginning: fifty miniatures, either full-page or inserted in the texts (ff. 1r-58r), embellishing the verses of the Apocalypse with a figurative language aimed at rendering, in its spirituality but not without notes of high emotional tension, the vision’s supernatural character.

These images are followed by an evangelistary that, after the Pericopes with the portrait of the monarch, flanked by the representation of the vices and virtues, presents another five, full-page miniatures with scenes from the New Testament marking the major holidays of the liturgical year.

Detail of the Bamberg Apocalypse

Since this is a masterpiece of the so-called Liutardo phase of the Reichenau school, one understands how this splendid manuscript came in 2003 to be part – with other equally valuable examples of Ottonian miniatures including an evangelistary of Otto III conserved in the Treasury of the Aachen Cathedral, the other quite beautiful Gospels of Otto III in the Munich Staatsbibliothek and the Pericopes of Henry II, also in Munich – of UNESCO’s “Memory of the World”, a special register devoted to protecting memories, documents and parchment memorabilia, paper, photos and sounds of the human race.

Reichenau illumination drew inspiration from paintings of the Carolingian period, Late Antiquity, and Byzantium.

Detail of the Bamberg Apocalypse

In the Ottonian period, the Abbey of Reichenau Island on Lake Constance in Southern Germany housed the most influential illumination workshop in Europe, known as the Reichenau School. Its lavish artworks were to influence European manuscript art for centuries.

Based on an article by Gianfranco Malafarina for Alumina — Pagine Miniate.

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