Eight centuries and a half left mostly intact this precious gem of the Romanesque twelfth-century art. Produced around 1170, the Stammheim Missal is a rich religious service book, written and decorated entirely by hand in the monastery of Saint Michael at Hildesheim in northern Germany.
The Stammheim Missal's painted decoration is extraordinarily rich and inventive; it fascinates not only for the perfection of its miniatures in terms of their symmetry, color, and shape, but also for the variety of elaborately decorated initial letters.
Although we cannot know for sure, it seems that five artists—four writing the text and one providing the painted decorations—created the manuscript. The missal contains texts — some with musical notation—prescribed for use in the Christian Mass, prefaced by a calendar.
The brilliant colors of a theological masterpiece
Das Stammheimer Missale is profusely illuminated with miniatures of rare theological complexity; these images present an extensive program of typology. The Missal fascinates not only by the perfection of its miniatures, especially in terms of their symmetry, color, and shape, but also for its variety of elaborately decorated initial letters.
On fol. 58r., we can find the largest inhabited initial ever produced. In the tendril decoration of the two inner fields of letter B, various figures are to be discovered, and all are occupied reading and producing wine. The motifs of the ornamented initials are purely decorative and have no figurative elements. The simplest are geometrically designed.
The frames of the miniatures are often gold, which can represent the spirit emanating from Christ. The colors are as brilliant as the day the paints were applied, the gold still sparkles, and most of the silver remains untarnished.
Still unknown is the artist, or more likely artists, who created this Romanesque masterpiece.
Together with its sister manuscript, the Ratmann-Sacramentary, the Stammheim Missal is an early liturgical testimony to the worship of Bernward in his monastery foundation. Nevertheless, there are fundamental differences between the two: the Stammheim's program of illumination is more ambitious in scope and theological complexity, moreover the quality of the painting is higher.
A German Romanesque work of art
The Stammheim Missal combines texts from both the spoken and the sung portions of the Mass. Its sumptuous decorations draw upon existing traditions of the older service books while introducing new theological subjects.
Historical and theological issues are fundamental to the decorative program of this book. Its extraordinary range of imagery, along with its artistry and its complex theological goals, makes the Stammehim Missal one of the greatest achievement of German Romanesque art.
Some historical background
The Stammheim Missal was created in memory of Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, the founder of the monastery, and served to promote the process of his 1193 canonization.
From the 12th century to 1803, the monks of St. Michael abbey kept this precious book safe. In the course of secularization, the last prince-bishop of Hildesheim Franz Egon Freiherr von Furstenberg took it into his care. Until the 20th century, the Missale remained in his family. In 1997, the Getty Museum finally purchased it.
The Missal survives in its entirety except for its binding. A Carolingian ivory diptych had been used on or for its binding, but was taken off in 1904 and was in the State Museums of Berlin, where went lost during the Second World War bombings. Today the binding is composed of wood boards covered with alum-tawed pigskin.