OTHONIAN ILLUMINATION

Departure from Carolingian—Bird and serpent—Common use of dracontine forms in letter-ornament—Influence of metal-work on the forms of scroll-ornament—The vine-stem and its developments—Introduction of Greek taste and fashion into Germany—Cistercian illumination—The Othonian period—Influence of women as patronesses and practitioners—German princesses—The Empress Adelheid of Burgundy—The Empress Theophano—Henry II. and the Empress Cunegunda—Bamberg—Examples of Othonian art.

Perhaps the first departure towards a new style arising out of the elements of Carolingian illumination is in the combination of the bird and serpent used for letter forms and continued into coils of vine-stem and foliage in combination with golden panelled frames or pilasters. The monsters thus produced seem to be a revival of the dracontine forms of the semi-barbarous Celtic and early Frankish arts. But the difference in elegance and refinement of drawing and beauty of colouring is very great indeed. Other animal forms are also made use of, nor is the human figure altogether absent. Sometimes entire letters are made up of the latter in various attitudes. Little scenes illustrative of the subject which the initial commences are often placed within it, as, for instance, in the B of the first psalm.[19]

[19] A characteristic Othonian Evangeliary of the eleventh century, executed at the Abbey of Stavelot, may be seen in the Royal Library at Brussels.

BIBLIA SACRA BIBLIA SACRA
12TH CENT. (LATE)
Brit. Mus. Harl. MS. 2799, fol. 185 v.
 
EVANGELIA (PARIS USE) EVANGELIA (PARIS USE)
C. 1275
Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 17341, fol. 120 v.

Many twelfth-century initials look like designs in metal-work placed on the panelled grounds of coloured enamels. But the rapid development of the vine-stem coils out of the stemless foliages of the Carolingian and Winchester styles is one of the wonders of the early German revival after the accession of the Emperor Otho I. A still greater improvement takes place after the marriage of his son Otho II. to the Princess Theophano, daughter of Romanus II., attributable, no doubt, to a fresh accession of artistic enthusiasm from the home of the new Empress. In point of elegance of design, beauty of curve, adaptation of every part to its share in the composition, nothing could be finer than the initial letters of the Othonian period of illumination. The year 963 introduced Greek fashions and Greek artists into Germany, the results of which are at once traceable in the increased splendour of monastic illumination in that country. The details of Greek ornament become the fillings of the frames and panels of the large initials.

The Cistercian illuminators, or rather calligraphers, while they constantly repudiate the golden splendour and monstrous follies of their rivals, absolutely excel in this same ornamental draughtsmanship. What, for example, could be finer than the pen-drawing of the great Arnstein Bible in the British Museum (Harl. 2800)? The ornament is mostly in a red ink, with flat-coloured blue, green, or yellow backgrounds, but it is not to be surpassed. No, the interlacements and coils, foliages and panels of the twelfth century are absolutely among the finest examples of ornamental lettering ever conceived. Illuminating seemed at this epoch to be more and more closely following the details of contemporary architecture, and so paving the way to the next great variety of the art, which is looked upon by some writers as the real beginning of mediæval illumination.