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The Reichenau Pericopes Book – Leather Edition
Highlight of Reichenau book art in golden pictures
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Library, Cod. Guelf. 84.5 Aug 2°, Monastery of Reichenau, beginning of the 11th century



Further Pictures


Hardly any epoch in the history of book painting has brought about such impressive and magnificent manuscripts as the Ottonian age. And amongst these, a scriptorium stands out above all others in a time when book painters created codices of unsurpassable technical skill and beauty: the scriptorium of the monastery of Reichenau. The Reichenau Pericopes Book is one of the most impressive and beautiful manuscripts and it is held today in the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, guarded like a public treasury – and rightfully so. Created on order of the German emperor Heinrich II, its unique beauty lies in its captivating rich use of magenta and gold throughout. The Reichenau Pericopes Book is unique and singular amongst the entire collection of German book painting from the Middle Ages, not only artistically but as well through its use of graphic icons, its nine incomparable pages of miniatures and six splendiferous pages of decorated initials.

A Golden Pericopes Book

The manuscript in Wolfenbüttel is an evangeliary: The 109 readings (Pericopes) originate exclusively from the four gospels and are arranged in a reading sequence according to the Christian years. Certain highly important ones are illustrated in altogether nine full-page miniatures, which captivate through the expressive use of rich gold gilding and radiant colours. In addition, there are six full-pages of decorative initials, whose large ornamentally arranged design emphasize and introduce selected readings. The unbelievable colours of the decorative elements which contain an abundance of imperial magenta and the finest gold borders, not to mention the generous body of text and numerous golden text initials, all provide a testimony to the high requirement standard of this manuscript.

The Reichenau – An unbelievable work of creative power in the 
zenith of German book painting

The evangeliary in Wolfenbüttel originated approximately 1000 years ago in the skriptorium of the Benedict monastery Reichenau. During the Ottonian age, splendid Reichenau manuscripts were created for high ranking clientele such as Otto III, Heinrich II or the Trier archbishop Egbert. The preserved collection of Reichenau works ranks amongst the most precious and impressive expressions of art during the Middle Ages.

The miniatures: radiant gold and imperial magenta created with unparalleled skill

The miniatures in the Reichenau Pericopes Book are painted on a vibrant gold base using opaque colours which have not lost any of their original charm. The series of pictures begins with a representation of the birth of Christ and the proclamation of his birth by the shepherds. The adoration of the king somehow connects the large-figured representation of the Virgin Mary holding her child on her lap, with the approaching three Wise Men from the Orient, who present their gifts in out-stretched arms.
A unique combination of pictures and initials rich with figures, provide a reading for Holy Saturday: the most famous miniature features a male figure climbing up the trunk of a large initial I. Seldom shown is the freeing of Petrus from the dungeon. The picture series is determined by a miniature showing death and the ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven: a picture theme that was verifiable in Western art only a few years before the emergence of the Reichenau Pericopes Book. Thus our codex represents an absolutely unique certified work of creative power from the school of Reichenau.

Devastating Fire Catastrophe and Chaos of War: origin and history of the manuscript

The remitters and site of origin of the Reichenau Pericopes Book cannot be verified due to missing sources of information. A hint is provided however – the accentuation of the celebration of the Dead and the Ascension of the Virgin Mary into Heaven: the picture of this celebration (fol. 79v) is prominently displayed and in a splendid ivory carving on the front cover of the book.

Pillaging of War avoided

Duke August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1579-1666), a famous 17th century collector and founder of the now Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel, acquired the Reichenau Pericopes Book in 1658, most likely from an unknown collector. The Duke saved large numbers of manuscripts during the occupation of Hildesheim, which have been stolen or pilfered in the course of the 30-Year War. At least seven of these manuscripts originated from the Hildesheim St Michael monastery, whose Patron Saint was the Virgin Mary. Therefore one can assume that the Reichenau Pericopes Book once constituted a main part of the Hildesheim cathedral treasury.

A Present from Emperor Heinrich II ?

Most likely the manuscript was a part of the coronation endowment of Heinrich II (1002-1024), abdicated by him on the 26th of March 1013 during the occasion of his visit to the Hildesheim chapter. Hildesheim was hit at the beginning of this year with a catastrophe: on the 20th of January 1013 it was devastated by a wildfire, in particular the archive and book inventory of the monastery. This fact may have given rise for the emperor to endow the monastery with a present in the form of a book. Surely the glorious layout of the Reichenau Pericopes Book with gold and magenta leads one to this assumption.

The Ivory Cover: Crowning „cover“ a unique work of art

From the original cover of the manuscript, the wood covers and Byzantine ivory relief carving remain preserved. Created in approximately 1000, it depicts the death of the Virgin Mary: Mary lies on her death bed, surrounded by apostles. Petrus swings a votive with incense and Paulus mourns while embracing her feet.
Christ stands behind the bed, represented in monumental size. In his hands he holds the soul of Mary, depicted as a small puppet-like figure. Flying angels receive the soul and carry it to heaven.

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