Otonian art

Otonian art . It is a style within pre-Romanesque art. It was developed, mainly in Germany , from the middle of the 10th century to the middle of the 11th century , during the Saxon dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire .


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  • 1 History
    • 1 Historical framework
  • 2 Purpose of the Otonian Art
    • 1 Painting
    • 2 Architecture
    • 3 Sculpture
  • 3 Literature and Politics
  • 4 Source


Otonian Art is a style within pre-Romanesque art. This flourishing of the arts has also been called “Otonian Renaissance”, in the same sense that it speaks of “Carolingian revival” to talk about the flowering after the coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800 .

The Otonian Art merges three traditions: those of late antiquity especially in the art of northern Italy , the Carolingian period, and Byzantium .

Historical framework

This revival of arts and architecture occurs under the courtly patronage of Otto I of Germany (936-973), son of Henry I the Birdman, and his immediate successors: Otto II (973-983), and Otto III (983 -1002). It began after the marriage of Otto with Adelaide of Italy (951), which united the kingdoms of Italy and Germany and thus brought the West closer to the Byzantine Empire , reinforcing the cause of union between Christians with their imperial coronation in 962 .

Later emperors resided mainly in northern Italy , accusing them of accusing of abandonment of affairs north of the Alps . Neither Oton II nor Otto III spent much time north of the Alps, producing a strongly Byzantinized art during his reigns.

It is sometimes considered that it also encompasses the reign of the last emperor of the dynasty, Henry II, emperor from 1014 and the first who assumed the title of king of the Romans; Rarely, the era of the dynasty was inaugurated by Conrad II in 1024 . The term is generally limited to the culture of the imperial court carried out in Latin in Germania. [1]

The “Ottonian revival” is especially manifested in the arts and architecture, revitalized by the renewed contact with Constantinople , in the revival of some cathedral schools, such as that of Bruno I, archbishop of Cologne, and in the production of illuminated manuscripts, the main artistic form of the time, of a handful of elite scriptoria, such as Quedlinburg, founded by Otto in 936 and in political ideology.

The imperial abbeys and the imperial court became centers of religious and spiritual life, guided by the example of women of the royal family: Matilde de Ringelheim, the enlightened mother of Otto I, or her sister, Gerberga de Saxony, or her consort Adelaide of Italy, or Empress Theophane.

Purpose of the Otonian Art

After the imperial coronation of Otto I in 962, a renewed faith emerged in the idea of ​​the Empire in the immediate circle of Otn I and a reformed church, creating a period of cultural and artistic fervor. Ottonian art was a courtly art, created to confirm the existence of a link between emperors and Christian rulers of late antiquity, such as Constantine, Theodoric and Justinian, as well as with their Carolingian predecessors, particularly Charlemagne.

This was achieved in various ways. For example, emperors flanked by military and ecclesiastics were represented, an image that results from a long imperial iconographic tradition. This can be seen by comparing the Byzantine portrait of Justinian in ivory Barberini, with the portrait of Otto III in the Munich Gospels of Otto III (Bavarian State Library, in Munich , code 4453).

Another popular procedure to remember the imperial lineage of Otto was to remove architectural elements from ancient structures of Rome and Ravenna and incorporate them into Ottonian buildings. Such was the intention of Otto I when he removed columns, some of porphyry, and other construction materials, from the Theodoric Palace in Ravenna and used them in his new Magdeburg cathedral.


A small group of Ottonian monasteries received direct support from the emperor and the bishops and produced some of the most notable medieval illuminated manuscripts, the main artistic form of the time.

Ottonian painting is considered as a revival, during the 10th century , of Carolingian painting, from which it takes its expressiveness, merging it with Roman and Byzantine iconography, which provides its typical solemnity. Landscapes, architectural motifs and portraits of emperors abound among his miniatures.

Otto was scandalized by the state of the liturgy in Rome , so he commissioned the first Pontifical Book, a liturgical book that contained both prayers and instructions on the rite. The compilation of the Roman-Germanic Pontifical, as it is called today, was supervised by Archbishop Wilhelm of Mainz.

The first manuscripts seem to have been made in the imperial Abbey of Corvey, on the Weser River (North Rhine-Westphalia).

After the year 1000, the Hildesheim scriptorium was handwritten.

In Trier worked the so-called Master of the Registrum Gregorii (Musée Condé, Chantilly), or Master of Gregorio, in the years 970 and 980. He is responsible for some of the miniatures of the influential Codex of Egberto (Codex Egberti) (Bibl. De Trier) .

However, most of the 51 images of this Codex of Egberto, an evangelist made for the archbishop Egberto de Trier in the eighties of the 10th century , were made by two monks of the most prominent scriptorium of the time: the from the island of Reichenau, on Lake Constance.

The Codex Egberti is represents in its images the first extensive cycle of images that narrate the events of the life of Jesus Christ in Western Europe , in a fusion of styles that include Carolingian traditions as well as features of insular and Byzantine influences. No other work characterizes the image of Ottonian art better than the miniatures that originated there.

These manuscripts produced in the monastery of Reichenau, Lake Constance have been part of the Memory of the World Program since 2003 . The Reichenau scriptorium specialized in illustrations of the Gospel in liturgical books, many of which were imperial commissions, such as the Evangeliaries of Otto III (between 997 and 1002 , preserved in Aachen and Munich) and the Lectionary of Henry II (early Century XI , Bavarian State Library, Munich, code 4452).

Other famous manuscripts include the Reichenau Gospel, Codex Liuther and the Bamberg Apocalypse (created between 1000 and 1020 ).

Other important monastic scriptoria that flourished in the Ottonian era, producing manuscripts, are those of:

Cologne, where at the beginning of the 11th century , evangelists were prepared for Abbess Hitda de Meschede (Bibl. Of Darmstadt; code 1640) and the Sacramentary of Saint Gereon (National Library of France, code Lat. 817), of strong Byzantine influence , with intense brushstrokes and bright colors.

Regensburg In this scriptorium, which was sponsored by Henry II, the Sacramentary of Henry II (Bibl. Of Munich, code 4456) and the Lectionary of Abbess Uta de Niedermánster (Bibl. Of Munich, code 13601) were written.

Echternach, flourished at the end of the Ottonian period, with works such as the Golden Gospel of Henry III (El Escorial, code Vetrinas 17). Salzburg, also from the mid- eleventh century , where the Lectionary of the library of the archbishops of Salzburg was made (Bibl. Of Munich, code 15713).

Some frescoes from this period are preserved in the church of St. George of the Oberzell monastery, located on the island of Reichenau, as well as in Goldbach. They are paintings that owe a lot to northern Italy .


The architecture of the Ottonian era extends from the middle of the 10th century to the middle of the 11th century . It is preceded by Carolingian architecture and followed by Romanesque, so it presents some continuity with Carolingian art and anticipates further solutions.

It is inspired by Carolingian and Byzantine architecture. Among the works that repeat the model of the Octagonal Palatine Chapel in Aachen are Ottmarsheim (11th century, Alsace) and the choir of the Trinity Abbey in Essen.

Religious architecture tends to depart from a centralized plan. The inspiration of the Roman basilica is preserved. Ottonian architecture maintains the double Carolingian feature finished with Apses on both sides of the end of the church.

Among the innovations of this architecture is the elaboration and wider use of galleries or grandstands, as well as the alternation in the supports (pillars and columns) according to two models: in the Rhineland alternate pillars and columns, and in the Saxon there are two columns between the pillars.

The first example of Ottonian architecture is the abbey church of San Ciriaco de Genrode (959-63), apparently the first in Europe that had a rostrum on the side aisles. It is one of the few constructions that are conserved of the architecture at the beginning of the Ottonian era.

Other Ottonian constructions are the churches of Sta. Gertrude in Nivelles (1046, Belgium), the great abbey of Saint George of Oberzell, in Reichenau, Saint Michael of Hildesheim (1010-33)


There is no monumental sculpture, but small sculptures in ivory and metal, mainly bronze, embellished with gems, enamels, crystals, and cameos. In these works the Byzantine techniques and iconography merge with the typical expressionism of the Germanic world.

The works in bronze present a great Byzantinism, especially after the marriage of Otto II with Theophane (972). Thus, Hildesheim’s workshop relates to the Byzantine art of southern Italy . The bronze doors of St. Michael of Hildesheim stand out, with scenes from Genesis and evangelicals; silver candlesticks with figures and a magnificent bronze column with spiral reliefs. The Germanic foundry technique would extend to Russia and northern Italy.

The ivories follow the Carolingian models. The schools of Trier and Fulda stand out. This art is closely related to book binding, as they formed the main decoration of the covers. In the Cluny Museum (Paris) an ivory plaque is preserved that represents Emperor Otto II and his wife, dressed in Byzantine court suits. Ottonian ivories will influence the Spanish art of the 11th century .

There are some wooden images, with relic receptacle, such as the Virgin of Essen (Essen Cathedral), covered in gold, and the Gero crucifix, (Cologne Cathedral). The statue of the reliquary of the Virgin and Child is a masterpiece of the Trier workshop, although it is currently preserved in the cathedral of Essen.

It is a three-quarter-sized wooden locket, covered by a gold foil, with enameled eyes and gems set in the Halo del Niño. For its part, the crucifix that is in the treasure chamber of the Cologne Cathedral is believed to have been commissioned by the archbishop Gero of Cologne (bishop in 976), which is possibly the most influential sculptural creation of this period, with a force that anticipate the vigorous Romanesque sculptures.

The goldsmiths follow the Carolingian models, although with greater importance of the enamels. Two workshops stand out: the one in Trier, sponsored by Bishop Egberto and the one in Essen, created by Matilde, granddaughter of Otto I, who was there abbess from 973 to 1001 . Among the pieces that are preserved from this period, it is worth mentioning:

The golden altar of Basel, currently in the Cluny Museum (Paris), from the beginning of the 11th century, donated by Emperor Henry II; Made in oak with gold.

In the imperial treasury chamber, located in the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna, the great imperial crown is preserved, one of the most important objects associated with Otto I. It consists of eight large plates, some with stones set and others with enamels in Cloisonne technique with figures like King Solomon’s. Only in Italy could there be artisans, trained in the Byzantine tradition, who mastered the technique for performing such a work.

Most likely, it was carried out for the coronation of Otto I in Rome (962), suffering two subsequent additions: a small cross mounted on the front, which was surely made for Otto II after his succession in the year 973; and an arch that passes over the crown, in which there is an inscription with the name of Emperor Conrad II, crowned in 1027 , so it is sometimes also called “crown of Conrad II”.

Literature and Politics

Hroswitha of Gandersheim characterizes the changes that occurred at the time. She was a nun who composed verses and dramas, based on the classic works of Terencio.

Politically, the period is characterized by theories about the unity of Christianity and the empire, as well as revived classical notions about imperial greatness in the West. Remember that Otto II had a Greek wife, Theophane, and through this marriage the Byzantine iconography penetrated the West.

The globus cruciger, that is, the orb (globus) with a cross (cruciger) on top of it became a symbol of royal power and the Germanic Roman rulers were represented as crowned by Christ in the Byzantine style. Precisely for trying to revive the glory of the Roman Empire for what Emperor Otto III made the eternal city his capital and introduced the Greco-Roman style in the ceremonial court.


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