Ottonian Art

Ottonian Art
Ottonian Art

Under the nickname of Ottonian Art, a period of cultural and artistic flourishing developed in the area of ​​Germany from the middle of the 10th century to the middle of the 11th century is circumscribed. During this period an art strongly influenced by the Byzantine tradition, the Carolingian era and the pre-Romanesque forms of Northern Italy developed.


This era of cultural flourishing began under the dynasty of Otto I and extended through the reigns of his successors Otto II and Otto III; it was a revaluation of the Holy Roman Empire that was mainly manifested in architectural, sculptural and pictorial forms. The art was merely a vehicle to link the Ottonian dynasty with the traditional Roman emperors and even with the dynasty of Charlemagne, a form of legitimization that flourished at the court of Otto I shortly after his coronation.

In architecture the forms developed in Ottonian art follow the same lines as Byzantine or Carolingian works. The architectural model of the Palatine Chapel of Aachen spread throughout the empire at the same time that a new aspect appeared in religious architecture that chose to abandon the centralized plan model to develop a longitudinal type of art that maintained the tradition of the basilicas Romans. Traditionally it has been thought that the Church of San Ciriaco de Gernrode is thefirst temple of Ottonian architecture.

In the field of sculpture small pieces are developed, almost always of a religious nature, made of metal or ivory and decorated with set precious stones and decorative enamels. The ivories follow the Carolingian tradition and will be used mainly in the decoration of the book covers; For its part, in bronze sculpture, the Hildesheim school, author of the Bronze Gates of Hildesheim, stands out mainly with very expressive reliefs and a new technique that will spread to Russian sculpture. In the wooden sculpture, the reliquaries that were decorated with precious gilt and set stones stand out, such as the Reliquary of the Golden Virgin of Essen or the Gero Crucifix of the Cologne Cathedral.


Ottonian painting highlights the influence of Carolingian painting -it is a revision of it- which has been influenced by the iconographic forms of Byzantine and Roman works. However, the main manifestations in the pictorial field are found in the illuminated books whose development was supported by Emperor Otto I himself. In this sense, illuminated works such as the famous Codex Egberti or Book of Egberto stand out, dating from the end of the 10th century, around the year 984, and was made for one of the most prominent personalities of the time, Archbishop Egbert of Trier. It seems that the work was carried out in one of the most outstanding scriptoriums of the time, the monastery of theReichenau Island. It is a work with more than fifty illustrations that represent the life of Jesus Christ for the first time in this setting.

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