The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Carolingian and Ottonian Art

Why is the cover of the Lindau Gospels so luxurious?

This astonishing book cover, decorated with pearls, sapphires, emeralds, garnet, and gold, was not originally intended for the ninth-century Lindau Gospels, though it has been associated with this manuscript since before the sixteenth century. The book cover was made at a monastic workshop during the reign of Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s grandson, who ruled from 840 to 877, and represents Christ on the cross. Christ is surrounded by mourning figures, but stands erect with His palms forward, and stares powerfully ahead. The work was made in a style known as répoussé, which means the figures were hammered into low relief from the back of the metal cover. The fine gold reflects glittering light, and the jewels evoke Heavenly Jerusalem. The obvious luxury of the cover indicates the inherent value of books during the medieval period, and the richness of the materials emphasize the triumph of Christ, foreshadowing the Resurrection.


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