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Godescalc Gospels

Godescalc Gospels

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A Prayer Book for Charlemagne

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, Ms. Nouv. Acq. Lat. 1203

Commissioned by Charlemagne and his wife between 781 and 783, the Godescalc Gospels as a liturgical luxury manuscript are of outstanding importance both in terms of art history and history. According to the wealth and rank of the high commissioners, it is equipped with all the means of writing and painting that were available at the court: the golden and silver ink stands on precious purple pastels, the sides are decorated with rich ornamentation, and a series of six impressive full-page miniatures opens the text. 

Gold, Silver and Purple – An Imperial Manuscript

The splendid Gospels contain the Gospel readings (Gospel pericopes) in the liturgical sequence of the year, written in gold and silver on precious purple ground. The elegant, even and vigorous text results from the use of a combination of uncials, former Carolingian minuscule and Capitalis rustica. 

Six Precious Miniatures

The manuscript contains six preciously ornamented full-page miniatures: four images of the Evangelists, a representation of Christ, as well as the image of a fountain of life, which here appears as a motif for the first time in an evangelistary. On 127 sheets in the format 310 x 210 mm beautiful ornamental decorations in frames, initials and ornamental pages cover all pages. The meticulous composition of the text and the richness of the ornaments make the Godescalc Gospels one of the most precious manuscripts from the Carolingian era.

Godescalc’s Poem

In the poem on folios 126v-127r, the manuscript reveals its famous owners: The Gospels were commissioned by Charlemagne (reign: 768-814) and his wife Hildegard (died 783). A book should be made containing a sequence of gospel readings according to the course of the liturgical year. Begun in 781, and finished in 783, the manuscript was created during the year of Charlemagne‘s journey to Italy in 780/781, when the king visited the tomb of St. Peter – and Pope Hadrian I baptized his son Pippin. The writer of the manuscript, Godescalc, whose name bear the Gospels, accompanied Charlemagne on this journey.

Charlemagne’s Court School

The Godescalc Gospels are considered to be the earliest known manuscript written in the scriptorium of the Court School of Charlemagne in Aachen. From this school eight complete manuscripts as well as a fragment are preserved today. The most famous manuscripts from this group are the Gospels from Soissons and Lorsch. The artistic transitional position of the Godescalc Gospels between insular and antiquating elements is reflected, among other things, in the context of the evangelist images: The frameworks of the miniatures of Mark and Luke are decorated with antiquated wave-band and acanthus ornaments, while the framework of the portrait of John is adorned with insular interlacing patterns. The Godescalc Gospels, as well as the other manuscripts from the Court School in Aachen, are of great artistic significance due to their stylistic heterogeneity, symbolizing the great aim of Carolingian art: the recovery of the plastic and spatial values of late antique painting.

The Edition 

True-to-the-original Fine Art Facsimile Edition of the manuscript Ms. Nouv. Acq. Lat. 1203 of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. A total of 6 full-page miniatures as well as ornamental decor in frames, initials and ornamental pages illustrate the magnificent Godescalc Gospels on 127 folios in the size of 31 x 21 cm. The edition is strictly limited to 980 copies worldwide. The edition is wrapped in a gorgeous real leather cover with embossed decoration. The commentary contains an in-depth discussion of the ornamentation and codicology of the manuscript, deals with Godescalc‘s dedication, and describes the art-historical context of the manuscript.

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