The frontispiece from the Aachen Gospels of Otto III and related imperial representations loom large in the study of Ottonian art. Despite cogent challenges, Ernst Kantorowicz’s problematic interpretation of the ruler portrait from the Aachen Gospels still colors much of the discourse on Ottonian visual culture, which is notable for the dramatic increase in representations of the life of Christ. For instance, Henry Mayr-Harting in his important study of Ottonian book painting repeatedly made connections between Christ-centered rule and Christ-centered art to explain this rise of Christological narrative scenes, even while considering the Gorze Reform and the liturgy. More recently, Eliza Garrison’s book on the intersections between art and the liturgy also focused on these imperial portraits—over the narrative scenes—as the key to understanding the manuscripts’ commemorative functions.
Certainly liturgical memorialization was an essential motivation for the manuscripts’ creation and the inclusion of the ruler portraits. But this does not necessarily account for the expanded cycles of the life of Christ in these same manuscripts. This seminar, part of a larger project on Ottonian visual narratives, reconsiders the relationships between the dedication images and the narrative scenes in the famous Reichenau gospel books and evangeliaria and the reception of these images during the liturgy. By also considering illuminations from manuscripts not directly tied to Ottonian rulers, I will explorenarrative structures and liturgical functions beyond commemoration and imaging sacral kingship.