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Aschaffenburg, Hofbibliothek, Ms. 13
Unique for its time is the virtuoso picture cycle which illustrates the complete life of Jesus in gold and vibrantly glowing colours. The so-called golden textura script throughout and a large number of miniatures painted on a golden background make this Codex Aureus one of the most important works of 13th century German book illustration.
The cultural and economic heyday of the Archbishopric in Mainz gave rise to what was perhaps the most significant work of 13th-century German painting – the Mainz Gospels, created around 1250. The identity of the patron who ordered this Gospel Book of unparalleled luxury is today unknown. Its outstandingly precious decoration, however, suggests that the unique manuscript was either created on commission by or destined for the powerful Archbishop of the cathedral town on the Rhine.
Over the centuries as part of the Mainz cathedral treasure, the Mainz Gospels have been preserved in the Hofbibliothek Aschaffenburg since 1803.
Codex aureus – a golden book
The Mainz Gospels comprise the four Gospels of the New Testament according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in one volume. The entire Gospel text was copied in pure gold ink, as a sign of highest regard. Only those entries that were not deemed to be saintly writings, such as the Canon Tables and the Gospel Prologues, are written in black ink.
A codex aureus (Latin: golden book), this valuable manuscript follows the imperial tradition of the golden Gospels from the Carolingian and Ottonian periods and occupies a special position among 11th to 13th-century manuscripts.
The so-called textura script, in which the Mainz Gospels are written, is today considered to be the most sophisticated calligraphic script of the Gothic period. Its equal spacing between the words and careful ductus provide for both good readability and an attractive overall appearance. Textura was also the model for Gutenberg’s movable type.
71 individual images and 300 decorative initials
In a virtuoso picture cycle the anonymous master created 71 individual images and sometimes full-page miniatures to illustrate the New Testament. A unique feature of 13th-century art is the wealth of images illustrating the Life of Christ: the Infancy, Miracle-Working, Passion, Dying on the Cross, Lamentation, and Resurrection are largely depicted on impressive golden grounds and in vibrantly glowing colours. The influence of Christological picture cycles seen in the 10th and 11th-century manuscripts from Reichenau and Trier-Echternach is still strongly felt in these pictures.
Canon Tables, large ornamental initials extending over several lines as well as 300 multi-coloured small decorative initials adorn the 100 manuscript leaves in the representative format of 35.3 x 27.0 cm.
A particular testimony of the early Gothic Jagged Style
Influenced by the arrival of Gothic architecture in France, the “Zackenstil”, a distinctive variety of the Gothic figure style – so-called because of the jagged, angular broken drapery – conquered German book illumination during the 13th century. The growing competition between sculpture and painting in mediaeval cathedral architecture may have decisively contributed to the formation of this new style. Whereas in Romanesque art the horizontal line was the distinctive spatial dimension, the Gothic style is dominated by the vertical line. Forms now tend to reach toward the sky and, unlike in previous styles, appear clear, transparent, and dynamic. The Gothic formal vocabulary is based on the conviction that spiritual truth is made visible by beauty.
The sometimes overly sharp contours of the Zackenstil result from the wish to confront religious sculptural art with an equally expressive and vivacious art form. Byzantian influences in the figural design fuse with new impulses from France to create a moving expressiveness and a three-dimensionality of almost relievo quality.
A feast of colour and light
Rivalling with the evenly golden texture of the script, the charming miniatures glow in brilliant colours that are easily comparable with colourful church frescoes or the luminosity of glass painting. Like a church window flooded with light, the strong colours of the pictorial and decorative elements glow intensely on the sheer eye-dazzling golden grounds. Deep red, green, and blue pigments in addition to pastel-like shades in light blue, pink, purple, and violet lend both images and initials a precious and well-balanced appearance.
A masterpiece of Fine Art Facsimile production
With a total of 71 individual images arranged on 100 leaves, 300 decorative initials, and the Gospel text written completely in gold, the volume deserves to be ranked among the most significant German manuscripts of the 13th century.
The facsimile edition of the Mainz Gospels is limited to 980 hand-numbered copies on a world-wide basis. All 200 pages are recreated in the original format of 35.3 x 27.0 cm and trimmed according to the original book.
The binding is modelled on the equally 13th-century Preetz Evangeliary, a worthy replacement for the original binding of the Mainz Gospels which is now lost – a fate unfortunately shared by a great number of other luxury bindings. The Fine Art Facsimile edition is today fitted with a binding of ultra-fine dark leather with embossed lines and an inserted silver plate. Five silver-gilded medallions showing the four evangelist symbols around a depiction of Christ in Majesty are applied on a silver plate as decorative elements. The volume is complete with a noble gilt-edge decoration on three sides.
The commentary volume
The scholarly commentary of the volume covers all aspects of the Mainz Gospels. The art-historian Dr Harald Wolter-von dem Knesebeck, Professor at the Kunsthochschule in Kassel, Germany describes the manuscript within its cultural-historical environment at the time of production. A detailed description of the miniatures and illumination elements reflects the current knowledge regarding this manuscript.
Facsimile and commentary volume are delivered in a decorative burgundy velvet case.