The Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary
A key work of German book illumination
Full-page gold miniatures with silver accents, expressive figures and imaginative initials make the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary the greatest treasure of the Cathedral Chapter at Brandenburg. This impressive masterpiece from the late Romanesque period survived all the wars, fires and turmoils of history and has remained in its original destination and in the care of the same institution for more than 800 years. Marvel at the high quality and incredible richness of this magnificent liturgical manuscript, which must have had an impact on the Slavic pagan tribes in the vicinity of Brandenburg like a treasure from another world as early as the beginning of the 13th century!
The Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary: The Manuscript
Designed to impress
Around 1210 the Premonstratensians of the Brandenburg Cathedral Chapter commissioned a scriptorium in the city of Magdeburg to produce the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary. Closely connected with the book illumination of Lower Saxony and Thuringia, and inspired by the leading Byzantine art of the time, a key work of German book illumination was created. The pictures and initials captivate through their artistry: skilfully placed points of light on the robes underline the dynamics of the figures; the intensity of the depiction of emotions builds a bridge to the viewer; large gold backgrounds give the scenes a spectacular atmosphere.
The Initials – as artistic as the Illustrations
The historiated initials complement the wealth of the miniatures of the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary with additional pictorial decoration. In addition to a full-page initial page, ten large initials decorate the text. The creativity of the illuminators can also be seen in the variety of initial designs. In addition to the identical initials on a gold background, there are richly filled, gold ornamental initials on a coloured background. Colourful tendril initials are inspired by the “Channel Style”, which was modern at the beginning of the 13th century, and they provide variety. There are also very individual initials that fuse figures and letter bodies into a whole in a unique way.
Unusual in a Gospel Lectionary
The Gospel Lectionary is a liturgical book with readings from the four Gospels, which the deacon reads out in the mass – so it is all the more astonishing that on fol. 54v-56r of the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary the complete text and the melody of the Exultet can be found. The chant is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil and is recorded in Gregorian neumes, the precursors of today’s notes. The name is derived from the first word of the chant “Exultet” (lat. “Let us exult”) and is dated to the 4th/5th century. Blue and red initials adorn these special pages. In the commentary volume the Exultet is transcribed, translated and transferred into modern notation.
Under the Magnifying Glass: A masterpiece of atmospheric book illumination
The two scenes of the burial and the mourning are united in an extraordinarily expressive miniature. The illuminator of the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary took the garden near the Hill of Golgotha mentioned in John’s Gospel quite literally and depicted a flower meadow with deciduous and fruit trees. In the middle of this landscape blooming with hope stands the sarcophagus with Christ’s body. The body is embalmed by Joseph of Arimathea, while Nicodemus carefully supports the head of the deceased and an assistant wraps Christ’s feet in cloth bandages. There is something deeply touching about this representation, which is unusually detailed for this early period.
The action is suffused with pain when viewed from the upper part of the picture, where the group of silent mourners stand out against a radiant golden background. The facial expressions and gestures of John and the three Marys are intensely expressive and make the emotions evident for the viewer – a very special skill of this master illuminator! They are separated from the open grave by a meadow with flowers and a jagged rocky edge. A reddish frame of palmette frieze with square ornaments in different colours and fine golden bars pictorially encloses the scene.
The Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary: The Edition
Manuscript and Facsimile at a Glance
Each page of the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary is an impressive testimony to the effort made to convert the largely pagan Slavic population through the splendour of painting. This splendour amazes us today as it did then, and it reproduces that of the original facsimile in its fullness.
Manuscript: Brandenburg, Cathedral chapter, Ms. 1
Date of Origin: c. 1210
Place of Origin: Magdeburg
Dimensions: 33,6 x 24,0 cm
Extent: 218 pages (109 folios)
Artist: a Master Illuminator
Patron: Brandenburg Cathedral chapter
Illumination: 18 full-page miniatures, one full-page ornamental initial, ten large miniature-like ornamental initials, numerous multi-line gold initials on coloured ground and coloured initials on gold ground, large areas of gold leaf, shiny silver, intensively bright colours
Binding: noble white leather binding
Commentary Volume on the Facsimile Edition by Beate Braun-Niehr / Klaus Niehr / Christina Meckelnborg / Rüdiger von Schnurbein / Fabian Kolb
Print run: 680 copies
The facsimile edition is under the high patronage of His Excellency, the retired Cathedral Dean Bishop Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolfgang Huber.
The facsimile edition will be published in the summer 2021.
Enjoy Viewing a Few Sample Pages:
A Glance at the Facsimile
The excerpt from the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary selected for browsing includes the page sequence fol. 63r-66v.
It begins and ends with a golden split initial, R and S with blue and coloured acanthus filling, against purple and violet backgrounds respectively. Two full-page miniatures (fol. 64r and 65v) illustrate in impressive scenes Ascension Day and the miracle of Pentecost. Simple green, blue and red initials with hints of fleuronnée structure the text with the readings appointed for the high feasts indicated by the miniatures.
A Challenging Production: fac simile
Greatest care during photography
During all steps of the work the original always remains in the Archives of the Cathedral Chapter in Brandenburg. For the photographing of the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary, a room was reserved for the digitisation specialist for a whole week. Using the latest digital camera technology, he took pictures of the original, page by page. The image data obtained contains a maximum of colour information, thus ensuring the best possible match between facsimile and original. A specially developed lighting technique makes the gold and silver shine. The data thus obtained facilitates the work of the lithographer, who creates the gold and silver sections.
Colour and gold reproduction true to the original
The Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary makes high demands on the facsimile. On site the lithographer compares the proofs with the original. In doing so, the specialist pays attention to the intensely bright colours as well as to the reproduction of gold and silver. Only when all the colours match the original is the edition printed. The reproduction of gold and silver parts only comes to life with the traces of oxidation and patina that have formed over the centuries. In order to make these traces of aging look as authentic as possible, a special paper is used and each print sheet is finished by hand.
Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary
The Facsimile Folder for the Edition
The linen folder embossed in gold for the Brandenburg Gospel Lectionary contains four original facsimile pages as a double leaf. They show on fol. 12v a magnificent full-page miniature with the Presentation of Jesus in the temple and on fol. 13r an almost full page-sized decorative initial P with the Evangelist Luke. These examples give you an impression of the high quality of the manuscript. The special paper, which has been finished by hand, makes the gold surfaces shine in the light. The accompanying documentation booklet gives an insight into the time of origin of the manuscript in the turbulent environment of missionary work on 16 pages. The book decoration consisting of miniatures and initials is explained, as well as the most important stages of the facsimile production, which require the greatest care from all those involved at all times.
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