MINIATURIST, German
(active 780s in Aachen)

Godescalc Gospels

781-83
Manuscript (Ms. nouv. acq. lat. 1203), 310 x 210 mm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

This liturgical book (an evangelistary) contains the pericopes (extracts from the gospels)read out during mass in the course of the church year. The 127 folios are illustrated with six full-page miniatures as well as ornamental decoration used for frames, initials and decorative pages. The manuscript was probably presented to Saint-Sernin in Toulouse by Charlemagne's son, Louis I the Pious (reigned 813-840).

The evangelistary was prepared on the orders of Charlemagne, it was copied by the scribe Godescalc. The emperor had assembled a staff of scribes and miniaturists at his palace in Aachen, and they were responsible for a number of manuscripts, of which the Godescalc Gospels is thought to be the earliest. Eight of the magnificent works produced by this court school have survived entire, along with a fragment of another. The latest of these, the Soissons Gospels and the Lorsch Gospels date from the early ninth century.

Ornamental architectural elements were employed as clichés for the pictorial construction of Carolingian illuminations. For the framing of the blessing Christ in the Christ in Majesty illumination on folio 3r, the artist reverts back to the Irish interlace motifs as found in the Book of Kells. An attempt is made to use architectural elements as means of ornamentation, the wall running along under Christ symbolizes a piece of the Heavenly Jerusalem.