The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram is one of the earliest and most exquisite examples of Carolingian illumination from northern France, in the area of Saint Denis, near Paris. Created in the second half of the 9th century, it represents a true rarity as it was written and illuminated on purple vellum. With its 7 beautifully illuminated full-page miniatures, 12 canon tables, and 10 decorative pages of exceptional quality, it is an exquisite example of the Palace School lavish production.
The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, named after the bishop Emmeram of Regensburg, contains the four gospels and was probably intended for the private use of the king. It has been dated back to the year 870 according to the poem of dedication (f. 126r.) which records the scribes of the work: the friars Liuthard and Beringar.
Luxury of the Palace School
From an iconographic standpoint, the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram is justly considered the masterpiece of the second Palace School of Charles the Bald, the abbey of St. Denis, the first being the monastery of St. Martin in Tours, raided in the year 855.
The manuscript oozes luxury, exhibiting richly decorated framing of the text, whose countless initials underline the lavish opulence of the work. Although the gospels are not illustrated, the codex features 7 full-page miniatures, including the dedication picture of Charles enthroned, the adoration of the lamb, a Majestas Domini (f. 6v.).
A significant miniature is Christ as the Lord of the universe enthroned, which echoes the Vivian Bible. An eighth miniature with the portrait of Abbot Ramwold was bound in at the front of the existing code in the late 10th century (f. 1r).
The miniature of the enthroned sovereign shows Charles in costly regalia underneath a baldaquin of gold and red. He is attended by his men-at-arms and blessed by the hand of god above his head. The illustration is set against a blue backdrop, allowing for some contrast between the dark color and the shimmering gold details.
The clothing is beautifully rendered with sweeping poses, and the scene as a whole appear geometrically balanced, as the king is portrayed right at the center and the rest of the figures are almost framed by the architectural features, such as arches and columns.
Commissioner and Patron: Charles the Bald
The commissioner of such majestic work was the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles the Bald, who also owned the book. At the emperor’s death the manuscript possibly passed onto King Arnulf of Bavaria, who having overthrown his uncle Charles the Fat, became the King of East Francia and donated the manuscript to the Abbey of St. Emmeram in Regensburg around the year 893.
The lettering is in gold uncial, entirely written in capital letters. Typical of the script is the rounded form of the letters probably influenced by Greek book scripts. The e features a curved stroke and l has a small base with an ascender taller than all other letters.
The most striking feature of this manuscript is its original binding, which surviving through the centuries, represents one of the greatest treasures of medieval art. In the center, Christ is represented enthroned, standing on the globe, framed by emerald green and blue jewels which profusely adorn the cover.
Around the central illustration of Christ are gold repoussé pictures in chased fields representing the four evangelists and scenes of the life of Christ, all surrounded by glazing, filigree and fine granulation of gold, making the cover of the Codex Aureus a masterpiece in its own right.
- Images courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram": Der Codex Aureus der Bayerischen Staatsbiliothek in München facsimile edition, published by Hugo Schmidt Verlag, 1921-25Request Info / Price