Codex Aureus, or Golden Codex, is a precious Gospel Book made in the Ottonian period now preserved in the library of El Escorial, Spain. The manuscript contains the four Gospels and prefatory materials including the traditional Canon Tables. It was probably made in the Benedictine monastery of Echternach, a monastery strictly connected to the Ottonian rulers. Emperor Henry III, featured in the book while offering the codex to the Virgin, commissioned the manuscript.
The extraordinary size of the manuscript, measuring 33.5 x 50.7 cm, provided the illuminators with the suitable support for the large cycle of illuminations that embellish this Ottonian exemplar. The text of the Gospels is written in an elegant Caroline minuscule; particularly remarkable is the fact that the entire text of the Gospels was written with gold color ink, thus enhancing the preciousness of the codex.
The Extensive Illuminated Cycle of the Codex Aureus Escurialensis
The traditional illuminations of the Evangelist Portraits show the typical Ottonian style with brilliant and pure colors and large use of gold colored pigment. The iconography of the Evangelist Portraits follows a Late Antique and Carolingian pictorial tradition.
The Evangelists are featured within an architectural arch and above them there are the Evangelist symbols in a celestial setting. The opening letters of each of the Gospels display a predominantly ornamental value because the colored letters cover entire pages.
Frames and borders decorate the pages of the display scripts along with the illuminations, making this codex an exquisite example of highly ornamental Gospel Book. The miniatures reinterpret Carolingian composition.
Among the most interesting illuminations, there is a portrait of the Virgin accepting the manuscript from the Emperor Henry III while his consort Agnes receives the Virgin Mary’s blessing. The background of the scene is the external view of Speyer Cathedral.
The History of the Codex Aureus Escurialensis
In 1046, the Emperor Henry III donated the codex to Speyer Cathedral to commemorate the dedication of the high altar. Remarkable for its illuminations, the Gospel was in the hands of extremely important personalities. Maximilian I owned the codex.
The manuscript was later passed on to Maximilian I’s daughter, Margaret of Austria; while the book was in her possession, Erasmus of Rotterdam consulted it for his work on the New Testament. The codex, then, came into the possession of the king of Spain Philip II, who donated it to the monastery at El Escorial.