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The Goslar Gospels
Golden book art from the Romanesque to Gothic period
Goslar, City Library, Goslar, around 1240



Further Pictures


Available as Vol. 1 of the series "Glanzlichter der Buchkunst"
Documentation available

The Goslar Gospels, so called after its probable place of origin in Lower Saxony, is one of the most exquisite creations preserved to this day from the Staufer period. Totalling 30 illustrations of biblical scenes, it was meant to instruct both educated and lay readers in the Word of God. The book owes its importance to a very special making and combines different elements of the most diverse styles in a wonderful new harmony.
The Gospel Book was predominantly used in church services where the Word of Salvation was read to believers. As Jesus Christ himself is present in the Gospels, a Gospel Book was given the utmost veneration in liturgy. Its open pages were offered to the faithful to be kissed and it was carried around town in processions. It can thus be assumed that this sumptuous work was not only accessible to a few privileged visitors of a library but that the entire community could admire it.

The sacred texts of Christendom

The structure of the codex is in line with the usual Gospel tradition. The prologue which contains epistulas and a preface by Saint Hieronymus (among them a typology of the Gospels and an explanation of the symbols attributed to the four Evangelists), a letter of Saint Eusebius (on the origins of the harmony of the Gospels) and a prologue on the Gospels by an anonymous writer, is followed by the four gospel texts which are in turn each introduced by a table of contents (”capitula”) and a prologue (”argumentum”).

A showpiece of German book illumination

This sequence of texts and their inner structure also determines the decorative pattern of the Goslar Gospels. A full-page miniature prefixes each Gospel and a full-page initial made to give the beholder an overall impression of the text that follows. Saint Luke, to whom history attributes the highest credibility among all the Evangelists, was assigned an additional initial and miniature page. The richly gold embellished miniature pages each display two or more scenic illustrations which, like the episodes inserted into the initial pages, are illustrations of the four Gospels.
The imaginative and inventive decoration with initials lend the text pages of the Gospel Book a very special charm, the initials being ornate in a different manner, according to the function they fulfil. Some of them are decorated with colourful rançons and small inserted drolleries on a gilded ground, but there are also finely outlined initials filled with gold rançons, and also golden letters on coloured grounds, interlaced with fine scrollwork. The art of drawing and painting is practised in a most sensitive manner throughout the Gospel, which thus belongs to the highest rank of book illumination of its period.

A beautiful and fascinating script

In addition to the precious quality of the pictures which were meant to interpret the Word of God to medieval believers, educated and laymen alike, the marvellous pages filled with script deserve the greatest attention. The scribe used a Gothic minuscule (textura), so typical of the 1st half of the 13th century, which he forms to a very beautiful script and wonderfully outbalanced letters. It must have been a very experienced copyist who wrote down the words of the Gospels with such great regularity, never negligent and with an ever-steady hand. When beholding the pages, one feels the great dignity of the medieval scribe to whom copying the Word of God was in itself an act of worship.

The binding

The facsimile edition is superbly bound in leather. The original manuscript, however, was protected in a binding of great artistic value, which has been preserved in its entirety up to this day, a very rare feature indeed. Although damaged in places and bearing the trace of time, it is still impressive with its fittings of gilded silver plate, with magnificent ornaments, embossing, filigree, precious stones (among them two antique gems), vitreous pastes and pearls. The upper plate shows a crucifixion scene in a Byzantine style, while the lower plate displays a silk embroidered Coronation of the Virgin. The topic illustrated on this plate leads us to assume that the embroidery might have been the work of the nuns of Goslar Convent who wished to honour the Virgin Mary to whom their church was consecrated.

The commentary volume

The scholarly commentary, which is part of any facsimile edition, explains the manuscript and its background. Renate Kroos places the miniatures in a context of the history of art, Wolfgang Milde provides an introduction to the codicological analysis, Frauke Steenbock describes the binding, and Dag-Ernst Petersen explains both the methods used to produce the Goslar Gospels and its present state of conservation.

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