MINIATURIST, German
(active around 810 in Aachen)

Lorsch Gospels

810s
Manuscript (Pal. Lat. 50), 370 x 262 mm
Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican

The imperial scriptorium or Court School of Charlemage in Aachen produced manuscripts of great magnificence. One of these was the present codex, the Codex Aureus of Lorsch or Lorsch Gospels. Apparently the codex was the last extant in a series of ceremonial manuscripts produced at the Court of Charlemagne. The book was written and illuminated in Aachen before Charlemagne's death in 814, probably about 810.

The codex was first located in Lorsch Abbey in Germany. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the library of Lorsch was one of the best libraries of the world. During the Thirty Years' War the codex was broken in two and the covers torn off.

This large illuminated Carolingian Gospel book is divided between two libraries, the prefaces and Matthew and Mark are in Batthyaneum Library at Alba Iulia in Romania, while Luke and John are in the Biblioteca Apostolica in the Vatican, and its famous and splendid large ivory covers are divided between London (front cover in Victoria and Albert Museum) and back cover in the Vatican.

The manuscript contains 6 full-page miniatures. It is entirely written with gold ink, each page shows colourful frames. Each of the four Gospels begins with a title page and an initial page. Of these the opening of St Matthew is given special prominence. It alone adopts the Insular tradition of a full-page initial. While this format along with decorative details like the interlace patterns clearly demonstrate the influence of the Insular tradition, a comparison of this page to the corresponding page from the Book of Kells indicates different approaches to book design. Ornamental details like the decorative motifs in the outer border, derived from metalwork, along with the painted copies of Antique gems clearly demonstrate how the manuscript is a mixing of Insular and Classical traditions.

The miniature on folio 67v represents St John the Evangelist sitting on a throne beneath a great arch in the act of writing his gospel. The richness of the decorative detail is highlighted by the abundant use of gold in his clothes and in the background curtains, as well as by the use of lapis lazuli to paint the capitals and the precious marble of the columns.