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.

Brit. Mus. Harl. MS. 2799, fol. 185 v.
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.

It must be admitted, however, that the excellence limits itself to the ornament. The human figure is wretchedly incorrect—even barbarous. It may be asked why is this? How is it that while the decorative portion of an illuminated book is beautiful in the highest degree, both in line and colour, and yet occasionally the artist seems not to have the remotest idea of the true shape of hands and feet or any part of the human body? Of course the usual explanation offered is that monastic education did not permit the study of the nude, and hence the monkish ignorance of figure drawing. But that is scarcely an excuse for the monstrous hands and feet and exaggerated facial expression of the miniatures. The Italian monk Angelico, in spite of his monastic limitations, succeeded in a most graceful rendering of the figure, and a charming delicacy in the forms of the hands. As in some instances the artist does reach a fair standard, it must be admitted that where he does not is owing to actual inability in himself and not in his system. The three emperors who give the name of Othonian to the period immediately succeeding the Carolingian ruled Germany, and had much to do with the ruling of Italy, from 936, when Otho I., called the Great, succeeded Henry the Fowler about five years before the death of Athelstan, whose sister Eadgyth[20] was Otho's first wife. His mother Mathilda was the patroness of the cloister-schools for women, working in them personally. She herself taught her servants and maids the art of reading. Her daughter Mathilda, the famous Abbess of Quedlinburg, in 969 persuaded the Abbat Wittikind of Corvey to write the History of the Saxon Kings, Henry her father, and Otho her brother (now in the Royal Library at Dresden). Hazecha, the Treasury-mistress of Quedlinburg, also employed the monks of Corvey, with whose beautiful initial drawing she was greatly pleased, to illuminate her own Life of St. Christopher. The beautiful but imperious Princess Hedwig, another of Otho's sisters, read Virgil with Ekkehard of St. Gall, and taught the child Burchard Greek, while Otho's niece Gerberga, Abbess of Gandersheim, was the instructress of the celebrated Hrosvita, “the oldest German poetess.” And this reminds us that at this time the women-cloisters of Germany and the Netherlands were among the most active centres of learning and book-production. The great monument of feminine erudition and artistic skill, called the “Hortus Deliciarum,” was of a somewhat later time, but other examples still exist, among them the beautiful Niedermünster Gospels of the Abbess Uota, now at Munich. A wood-cut by Albert Dürer prefixed to the first edition of Hrosvita's works (Nürnberg, 1501) represents the nun Hrosvita kneeling before the Emperor and beside the Archbishop Wilhelm of Mainz presenting her book.[21] As to the literary labours of Hrosvita, this is not the place to discuss them. She is simply an incidental figure in our view of the brilliant Court of the Othos. A MS. of her works 500 years after her death was found among the dust of the cloister-library at St. Emmeram of Regensburg by Conrad Celtis, and, as we have seen, printed for the first time in 1501. Thus she stands out as an illustration of the fact often alluded to, of the importance of feminine foundations in the monastic scheme.

[20] The chroniclers are rather confused as to the name of this Princess.

[21] It is thought, however, by some that the figure behind is that of the Abbess—not the Archbishop. See Dürer Soc. Portfolio for 1900.

Her picturesque story of the romantic adventures of Adelheid of Burgundy, her marriage in 947 to King Lothaire of Italy, her widowhood and perils, her misfortunes and eventual marriage to the Emperor Otho, reads more like a chapter from the Morte d'Arthur or the Arabian Nights than a veracious history of real people. The Empress Adelheid was, indeed, a remarkable woman, and the nun of Gandersheim is full of her praises. In her younger days she had been a zealous patron and protectress of the Abbey of Cluny, which stood on her native land of Burgundy, and her sympathies remained always with the religious houses. In this respect, indeed, she was a worthy successor of the pious Mathilda and her daughters. She died in her seventy-first year in her Abbey of Selz in Elsass, leaving a memory rich in benefits to the monastics, especially those of Cluny, and venerated as the patroness of many an illuminated volume of poems or theology, not to mention the liturgical books executed at her expense for use in her various foundations. The tenth century seems to have been an age of illustrious women. No sooner do we leave the story of Adelheid than we enter upon that of the young wife of Otho II., the Empress Theophano, daughter of the Greek Emperor, Romanus II. When little more than a child she was married to the son of Adelheid, he himself being in his twentieth year in the year 972, and in the city of Rome. The young Greek Princess who had been reared amid the luxury and splendour of the Eastern capital at once became the fashion—the manners of her Byzantine household became those of her Roman court, and were transplanted to her German home at Bamberg. Artists, limners, copyists, musicians, scholars, formed part of her retinue, and at once the German Court became the rival of those of England, Byzantium, Cordova, and Rome.

It was, indeed, a Renaissance, an awakening in literature, art, and social life. Nor did its glory fade until eclipsed by the succeeding rivalries of France and Italy. Theophano survived her husband, who died in 983, and proved herself a capable Regent during the infancy of her son Otho III. She, however, did not live to see his early death, nor indeed to see that of the aged Adelheid, who survived her eight years, and died in the same year (999) as Otho's aunt, Matilda, Abbess of Quedlinburg.

The death of Otho III. in 1002 did not affect materially the steady advance of monastic art. Bamberg, St. Gall, Corvey, Luxeuil, Bobbio, Monte Cassino continued their accustomed labours. Under the Capetian Kings the French foundations maintained the reputations they had won during the Carolingian times, while others were added from time to time throughout the Rhineland, Limousin, and the South of France, where the Romanesque or Byzantine tastes had not yet penetrated, and whose work therefore remained distinct from that of Italy and the German Empire.

Henry II. and the Empress Cunigunda made Bamberg the great centre of German art, and it is to Bamberg, St. Gall, Luxeuil, Monte Cassino, and Magdeburg that we have to look for the finest productions of the eleventh century. Among the earlier works of the Othonian period we may mention the famous Gospel-book executed for the minister of Otho II., Egbert, Archbishop of Trèves, and known as the Codex Egberti. It was written in 980 at Reichenau on the Lake of Constance (or Bodensee, as it is locally known) by two monks, Kerald and Heribert, whose dwarfish figures appear beneath that of the archbishop on the frontispiece. It contains fifty-seven illuminations and several folios of violet parchment with golden ornaments and lettering. But its pictures are rather remarkable, mostly the figures are too short and the limbs and extremities badly drawn, but in some of the statelier personages the error is reversed and they are too tall—this seems to be owing to Greek influence, while the Byzantine taste shows itself in the treatment of the border-foliages. Beasts are unnatural—demons and swine are alike, both in form and colour (Pub. Lib., Trèves).

An Evangeliary, formerly in the Cathedral Treasury at Bamberg, but now in the Royal Library at Munich (Cimel. 58), is a good example of the kind of work that at first glance appears to be actually Carolingian both in the figures, attitudes, and treatment of drapery, but which on closer examination proves to be really due to the reign of Otho II. In this MS. the beginning of St. Matthew contains four medallions—two of Henry I. (the Fowler), one of Otho I., his son, and another of his grandson, Otho II. (Nat. Lib., Paris, Lat. 8851).

A still more notable MS. is kept in the Munich Library (Cimel. 58), containing a two-paged picture of tributary cities bringing gifts to the Emperor Otho III. In the painting in this MS., notwithstanding the exaggerated solemnity of expression, the faces are well drawn and the features carefully modelled. The painting is in the Greek manner, as is also the general character of the draperies. The small, ill-drawn feet are by no means comparable with the heads.

The Imperial crown is square, like those of the Magi in the Bremen MS. now in the Library of Brussels, or like that of Baldwin as Emperor of Constantinople. In the several enthronements which occur among the Imperial miniatures at Munich there are important and significant differences which might not be noticed unless pointed out.

The changes in the shape and treatment of the orb, for instance, mean more than a mere advance in enrichment, or an improvement in artistic skill. The difference indicates a change in political usage. In the miniature of Charles it does not occur at all; in that of Otho III. it is a mere symbol; in that of Henry II. it is the actual emblem of sovereignty presented by the Pope to the Emperor, to be held by the latter in token of his investiture.

It was Selden's opinion that the orb, surmounted by the cross, never appears in western art until the time of Henry II. Thus it is here one of the many seemingly insignificant details which, in the miniature art of the Middle Ages, contribute to the elucidation of History.