A jewel of the Cologne School of Ottonian manuscript production, the Hitda Codex is a gospel book with two dozen full-page miniatures rich in detail and painterly drama. The sumptuous manuscript was produced in the early eleventh century, and yet the striking illuminations, with their graphic style and dramatic compositions, possess a timeless aesthetic.
The illustrations include a dedication image depicting the patron, Abbess Hitda, gifting a gold-bound book to St. Walburga, Christ in Majesty, four evangelist portraits, and selections from the Life of Christ. The images are rendered in intense colors with details embellished with gold. Each is accompanied by a facing framed tableau containing a descriptive caption in elegant gold lettering written on a purple ground.
Named after its patron, the Hitda Codex contains the text of the four gospels in Latin. Each gospel begins with a lavish incipit page. The gospel’s accompanying canon tables are inscribed within architectural frames of a refined classicism. Also included is a record of the donations made to St. Walburga by Abbess Hitda.
A Book for Women
Women and their relationship to the divine is a theme central to the book’s pictorial program. From the dedication page, which depicts two women, to the visual parallels between a resting Mary in the Nativity and a sleeping Jesus in the Storm at Sea, the images, through their use of gesture and gaze, invite the viewer to contemplate the emotional and spiritual role of women in religious life and salvation.
An Exquisite Example of Caroline Minuscule
Elegant and bold, the script of the gospels, presented in a single column of twenty-five lines, is an outstanding example of Caroline minuscule. Occasional gold lettering and foliate initials embellish the text. A second hand is found in the captions preceding each miniature. Written in gold, this delicate, flowing script enhanced by sweeping flourishes is a masterpiece of western medieval calligraphy.
A Millennium in Germany
The manuscript was produced in Cologne through the patronage of Hitda, Abbess of the convent at Meschede. An entry and hallmark from circa 1500 places it with a women’s group in the Sauerland region. By the eighteenth century it had returned to Meschede, and then passed through Wedinghausen to the library in Darmstadt where it remains today.
The dedication page depicts Abbess Hitda presenting a book with a gold cover to St. Walburga. Because the book is meant to represent the codex itself, the original cover, now lost, may have been gilded or gold-plated.