Ornamented with gold, gems, and ivories, the covers of Ottonian gospel books were not, in the manner of book covers today, designed to summarize a text or to entice potential readers. Instead these materially splendid, iconographically rich bindings were actors in the most important performances of the period—the masses of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. My seminar will begin by presenting my latest research about how and what the treasury bindings signified within a specific, ritual context: the early eleventh-century Easter Vigil at the newly founded Bamberg Cathedral.
From this case study, I then pose larger questions about the function and reception of the often-glimpsed narrative imagery on Ottonian treasury bindings. How might narratives on the covers and other liturgical furnishing have created meaning by referencing each other? What was the role of the viewer in filling in the narrative gaps to construct meaning? And how were such narratives contingent on the liturgical celebrations that constitute their viewing context? These themes constitute the core of a chapter of my current book project, The Word Made Gold: Liturgical Manuscripts and Performance in the Age of the Ottonians. In this book I argue that in giving scripture tangible and expressive form, the covers made the theology underpinning the liturgy manifest. Returning the deluxe liturgical manuscripts to their performative contexts reveals not simply the status of scripture in eleventh-century Germany, but also how the Ottonians used art and ceremony to explore and experience the mysteries of their faith.