Article

Ottonian Art

Karen Blough

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0066
Ottonian Art

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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This entry includes texts that address the visual arts primarily in the area represented by present-day Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands—the heart of the early medieval Holy Roman Empire—between about 950 and 1125, that is, during the reign of the culturally undifferentiated Ottonian and Salian dynasties (919–1024 and 1024–1125, respectively). The designation “Ottonian” derives from the prominence of Otto I the Great (r. 936–973), the first emperor of this Saxon dynasty, and his son and grandson, Otto II (r. 973–983) and Otto III (r. 983–1002). During Otto I’s reign, a cultural flowering began whose characteristics, in the visual arts and architecture, exhibited a fair degree of consistency into the 12th century. Initially, Ottonian artists responded chiefly to Late Antique and, especially, Carolingian sources, a choice of models dictated in part by availability and perceived relevance and in part by Otto I’s programmatic intent to associate himself with Charlemagne, Justinian, and Constantine. By the time the 10th century came to a close, however, Ottonian artists had developed a unique manner that largely eschewed figural naturalism and spatial illusionism in favor of imagery emphasizing metaphysical and hieratic values. The mature Ottonian style, most famously represented by the rich body of illumination created at Reichenau, dominated the following century. An interest in Ottonian art—particularly manuscript illumination, metalwork, ivory carving, and architecture—has been manifest in German-language art history since the late 19th century, but it is only from the late 20th century that scholars writing in English have followed suit. Although early studies foregrounded issues of style and artistic identity, the role of the patron, frequently a member of the royal family or a prominent ecclesiastic (or both), soon emerged as a principal theme in Ottonian studies. Most surviving Ottonian works were created for a sacred purpose, and recent scholarship has attempted to view them contextually, particularly in light of interrelated practices of gift-giving, commemoration of the deceased, and construction of community identity. The scope of patronage studies has furthermore been broadened to include the important role played by Ottonian women patrons. Because of the long-standing predominance of German scholarship in Ottonian studies, German-language titles figure prominently in this article; however, works in English are included to the greatest extent possible.

Article.  10760 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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