Conference paper

Nees, Lawrence:

Aspects of Antiquarianism in the Art of Bernward and its Contemporary Analogues

When he commissioned the great bronze column, recently returned to its original location at St. Michael’s in Hildesheim, Bernward and his artists were inspired by ancient exemplars such as the monumental arches of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The column is without close parallel in its specific form, but this paper seeks to set it, and some other works associated with Bernward, into a broader context of what, for want of a better word, might be termed "antiquarianism" appearing in many works of art from the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. Older works were not only studied and emulated in various ways, they were also updated, re-presented in a remarkable variety of ways.

To take one other contemporary example from Germany, some of the illustrations of the great Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, made for Charles the Bald ca. 870, directly inspired the artists of Regensburg when they made a great Sacramentary for Henry II before 1014, while the Carolingian manuscript itself had a few decades before received a new dedication image, inserted into it by Abbot Ramwold. The powerful retrospective character in this book is manifestly not focused on Antiquity, the subject of so much scholarly attention, but rather on the Carolingian period. An intriguing instance that suggests more than simply emulation of especially luxurious and royal- or imperial-connected monuments is the relatively modestly decorated Gospels manuscript now in Augsburg, probably produced in early eighth-century Echternach, which in the late tenth century received Evangelist portraits painted by an artist in the circle of Archbishop Egbert of Trier. Here the motivation presumably has more to do with reclaiming and reinforcing the earlier religious history of the diocese of Trier and its St. Willibrord. New miniature were also added in the late tenth or early eleventh century to well-preserved Carolingian books now in Trier and Berlin, miniatures which updated the older books’ iconography but also may have been intended to suggest greater antiquity for that iconography than was in fact the case.

Given the many links between Ottonian art in Germany and the contemporary arts of Anglo-Saxon England, it is not surprising to find similar characteristics, including the replacement of some, but not all, of the Evangelist portraits in the small Gospels manuscript probably produced in the late eighth or early ninth century in Ireland, with entirely different miniatures in the “Winchester” Anglo-Saxon style. Examples of this retrospective interest occur farther afield, in France and Italy, and even in the contemporary Islamic world. In other words, I envisage something that looks less like a “Renaissance” than like a recovery of earlier medieval traditions.

Lawrence Nees studied at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, where he received a doctoral degree in 1977. He has taught at the University of Delaware since 1978, where he is Professor in the Department of Art History. He is currently the Vice-President of the International Center of Medieval Art. He is a specialist in the earlier medieval period, especially ca. 500-1000, including Late Antique, Insular, Frankish and Byzantine materials. His studies include consideration of illuminated manuscripts, ivory carvings, luxury metalwork, sculpture, and architecture, as well as historiographical issues and relationships between texts and images. He is the author of <From Justinian to Charlemagne, European Art 565-787: an annotated bibliography> (Boston, 1985), <The Gundohinus Gospels> (Cambridge, Mass., 1987), <A Tainted Mantle: Hercules and the Classical Tradition at the Carolingian Court> (Philadelphia, 1991), and <Early Medieval Art> (Oxford, 2002), and editor of <Approaches to Early-Medieval Art> (Cambridge, Mass., 1998). He is currently completing <Illuminating the Word: On the beginnings of medieval book decoration.>

University of Delaware