Early Medieval Period – Ottonian Art – A Glimpse

ottonian artwork, early medieval period, ottonian

By Annette Labedzki

The Pre-Romanesque period in German art history, between circa 919-1056, is called “Ottonian Period,” after the names of three Saxon Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, named Otto-Otto, the Great, Otto II, and Otto III, who ruled from 919-1024. The Ottonian Empire included the lands that now are Germany, Switzerland, and Northern & Central Italy. This period was one of the greatest ages after the fall of Carolingian Empire. Economic growth and political patronage helped in creating an atmosphere of increased cultural and artistic activity, which along with Late Antique, Byzantine, and Carolingian influences, helped develop a distinctive style, the Ottonian Art form.

The Ottonian emperors wanted the history to remember them as great rulers. Towards this objective, they trumpeted their closeness to the pope, the fact that gave them spiritual authority to rule. They also sought close ties with the contemporary empires of repute, primarily the Byzantine, a civilization of much superior might and sophistication. They were especially impressed by the likes of Constantine, Theoderich, & Justinian of Late Antique, and Charlemagne of Carolingian Empire. Byzantine portrait of Justinian, a Barberini ivory work, placed with the portrait of Otto III in “Munich Gospels of Otto III,” reflects the connect. Due to these close ties, the Ottonian artisans and artists were exposed to art forms that showed the majesty and the grandeur of other empires. The Ottonian emperors too therefore, patronized the visual art forms that announced their greatness.

This period was also associated with reform and growth in the church, and the monasteries were the producers of the finest Ottonian Art. The artistry included magnificent churches & cathedrals and richly decorated luxury objects, meant for accessorizing the treasures and interiors of these religious buildings.

The Medieval illuminated manuscripts, manually written books with bright and beautiful illustrations, painted or drawn, that lit up or illuminated the page, became an important form of artistic expression. All this was possible due to the sponsorship and the patronage of the emperor & the bishops, as they helped arrange the best of the tools and skills possible. Master of the Registrum Gregorii, or Gregory Master, who worked between 970 and 980, was one sought out artist of the era. He created “Codex Egberti,” (980s). “Munich Gospels of Otto III” (c. 1000) and the “Pericope Book of Henry II” (c. 1001-1024) are some other exemplary books of the Early Medieval Period.

In architecture, the main characteristics of the Ottonian basilicas were symmetry, wide aisles, and bare walls. Clear, circular forms and detailed facial expressions characterized the religious sculpture. The doors of the cathedrals and churches were at times decorated with sophisticated bronze relief.

Ottonian artisans were also proficient in fine metalwork and created some of the world’s most astonishing luxury objects. The emperor’s court in its effort to match the glory and the pomp of the Byzantine Empire, splurged on huge ceremonies and magnificent attire. This in turn boosted the demand for brilliant ornaments and jewelry to complement them. Ottonian artifacts were more ornate than descriptive. They displayed a Germanic taste for “abstract” geometric pattern, fine details, and intricate techniques. Gems, enamels, crystals, and cameos, complimented the metalwork, with ivory work also being quite creatively competent. The “Otto-Mathilden Cross” is one of the most landmark sculptures of the Ottonian Art belonging to the Early Medieval period.

Annette Labedzki received her BFA at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. She has more than 25 years experience. She is the founder and developer of an online art gallery featuring original art from all over the world. It is a great site for art collectors to buy original art. Is is also a venue for artists to display and sell their art . Artists can join for free and their image upload is unlimited. Please visit the website at http://www.labedzki-art.com


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