Wolfenbüttel, Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv, 6 Urk. 11

Marriage Certificate of the Empress Theophano Facsimile Edition

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The Marriage Charter of Empress Theophanu was provided at the marriage of the young Theophanu to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II in Rome on 14 April 972. A monument of Ottonian court painting, the certificate is supremely significant as one of the oldest documents from the personal archives of a woman reigning at the highest political level.

Prepared by Otto II, the charter is written in Latin within a ceremonial frame of gold that spans over three pieces of purple-dyed parchment. Penned in precious gold script, the sixty-two lines of the text officially recognized Theophanu as the Holy Roman Empress. In addition to binding the couple in legal matrimony and outlining the young bride's extensive endowments, the text also emphasized the spiritual importance of marriage.

Imitation Imperial Purple and Byzantine Textiles

The roll simulates the look and length of cut Byzantine silk with decorative "embroidered" edging in gold, blue, and white. At the top, it commences with a golden strip containing seven small medallions with busts of Christ, Mary, and John the Evangelist flanked by four additional prophets or apostles, while its outer edges terminate with Trees of Life and confronting peacocks.

The final twenty-three centimeters of the roll are blank, allowing unimpeded viewing of the purple medallions and elaborate interstices of indigo on which the text is written. The two columns of large medallions feature animal pairings that alternate between lions with their paws around young cows and griffins in a similar "embrace" with does.

These decorative elements immediately allude to Byzantine textile patterns and cloisonné, but despite their resemblance to a number of foreign sumptuary arts, they are to be understood as courtly motifs that communicate Ottonian cultural sophistication and imperial prestige.

Heightening its magisterial qualities, the certificate is dyed to resemble the costly and labor-intensive Tyrian (imperial) purple, a dye made from snails that was highly restricted and precious. The front of the Charter was decorated with minium and madder, while the reverse was painted in the purple derived from madder, designating this document as an imperial project. Nothing could be more appropriate to accompany the coronation of the new Empress than the image of purple Byzantine silk.

Written in gold with a touch of sweetness

This imperial certificate is similarly significant as an exquisite example of chrysography (writing in gold). Its handsome script is heralded as one of the finest representations of Caroline minuscule and has been attributed to the Master of the Registrum Gregorii, an illuminator and scribe active in Trier. His hand is also one of the five responsible for the magnificent Greco-Latin Psalter that appears to have similarly been made for Empress Theophanu.

The minuscule is used for the majority of the document, save for the entry protocol (lines 1-2), the two lines bearing signatures (lines 57-58), and the names of the Pope and the imperial persons in the text. These are instead, given greater emphasis with distinctive rustic capitals (capitalis rustica).

The gold in the writing and decoration consists of the traditional gold-silver alloy with a small amount of copper. Traces of sugar (likely from honey) could also be detected in its composition. The honey, an ingredient absent from early medieval recipes for illumination, could have been used to rub the gold leaf into a fine powder. Precious gold ink was primarily reserved for sacred text and greatly significant imperial decrees. Its use here emphasizes the magnitude of this marriage.

Royal Convent of Gandersheim

Theophanu herself is believed to have deposited the certificate at Gandersheim Abbey for safekeeping. The female intellectual center was a frequented refuge for the young Empress in her first five years of marriage and was the birthplace and/or nursery of several of her children.

The imperial foundation was thus often the recipient of luxurious gifts from the royal couple and their children. Sophia, their second daughter, also may have been responsible for bringing the Charter to Abbey, where she served as abbess from 1001 to 1039.

Regardless of its precise delivery, the survival of the Marriage Charter is to be credited to the careful stewardship of Gandersheim Abbey. It was only discovered there in 1700 when it was published for the first time.

After a residence of over eight centuries, the certificate was transferred upon the secularization of the abbey in 1823. Following a short sojourn in the Braunschweigisches Landeshauptarchiv, the charter was finally was transferred to Wolfenbüttel in 1835.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Marriage Certificate of the Empress Theophano": Die Heiratsurkunde der Kaiserin Theophanu facsimile edition, published by Mueller & Schindler, 1980

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Roll description compiled by Erene Rafik Morcos.
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Die Heiratsurkunde der Kaiserin Theophanu

Stuttgart or Simbach am Inn: Mueller & Schindler, 1980

  • Commentary (German) by Matthes, Dieter
  • Limited Edition: 850 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Marriage Certificate of the Empress Theophano: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

24-page academic introduction with transcription and translation by Dieter Matthes.

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