Ottonian Renaissance

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

OTTONIAN RENAISSANCE

The popular name for the cultural surge experienced throughout the holy roman empire under the Roman emperors otto i the Great, otto ii, and otto iii; that is, during the years 936 to 1002. If this renaissance is to be understood, it must be linked with the intellectual movement initiated by charlemagne and his successors, the so-called carolingian renaissance, when scholars tried to preserve and revitalize the culture of the late classical and early Christian period. The most distinctive characteristic of the Ottonian as opposed to the earlier

Carolingian Renaissance was the greater part played by indigenous northern and eastern European influences in the cultural flowering of the 10th century.

Furthermore, the Ottonian Renaissance profited from the increased trade and communication with the older and more cultivated areas to the south, such as the Lombard kingdom, Venice, and Còrdoba, and from its continued relations with Byzantium. Although the Ottonian, like the Carolingian, Renaissance attempted essentially to revive classical antiquity, it was able to imbue its work with a more personal touch and greater depth. Especially effective in creating the new intellectual atmosphere were the currents emanating from the imperial court of the Ottos, especially from such men as Archbishop bruno of cologne, notker of liÈge, and adaldag of bremen. This new intellectualism spread as the missionary efforts of the Archdiocese of Salzburg and the dioceses of Freising, Passau, and Regensburg were directed southeastward; the cathedral school in Magdeburg, directed by Ohtric, one of the most famous scholars of his time, became both recipient and disseminator of the new Christian learning. Monasteries, reinvigorated by the cluniac reform and the "strict observance" movement initiated at gorze (Brogne), roused themselves to special spiritual and intellectual endeavors. Works of historical importance

and literary worth were written in both Italy and Germany (liutprand of cremona, widukind of corvey, and roswitha of gandersheim)works outstanding both for the knowledge of classical culture they displayed and for their rhetorical skill. Works of architecture, such as the abbey church of the nuns of Gernrode, the narthex and crypt of Oberzell monastery at Reichenau date from the period.

The Ottonian renaissance is sometimes designated as a renaissance of Carolingian culture; but, in continuing the work of the Carolingians, it produced much that was peculiar to itself. It undoubtedly reached its peak under Otto III (9831002), both in its cultural efforts and in its maturity of religious thought; it was an era marked by the desire to evangelize peoples considered heathen (an endeavor that entirely consumed Otto III) and by enthusiasm for the arts and learning. While there are only meager remains of this artistic and intellectual activity, it is known to have been the developmental period of guilds of builders and artisans. It is clear also that the Emperor himself attempted with some success to write poetry. There is well-documented evidence to his collaborations in more than one literary venture, e.g., when his friend Bishop adalbert of prague was martyred, he personally took part in the composition of a poetic life and paean in honor of his martyrdom. Contemporaries saw the emperor, even while he was still very young, as the center of the intellectual and artistic life of his era. His almost impassioned participation in such endeavors increased considerably in his mature years, and through his tutors, who were also the most brilliant men at court, viz, Gerbert of Aurillac, the future Pope sylvester ii, whom the Emperor personally invited to his service, accompanying the summons with a poem, and Archchancellor heribert of cologne, he provided the empire with effective intellectual leadership.

In view of Otto III's commanding personality, it is understandable that during his reign sculpture, miniatures, and book illuminations all served the glorification of the ruler. An example is found in those pages produced by the reichenau school of art after the imperial coronation on May 21, 996, including the famous double page of the Otto III Gospel Book (in Munich), the undisputed masterpiece, as well as similar pages in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, and in the Bamberg Josephus MS. These illuminated pages, which undoubtedly were produced after the coronation and which seem to have been products of competition among the most distinguished master miniaturists of the day (K. and M. Uhlirz, Jahrbücher Otto III ), show the influence of lands to the east (Sclavinia, that is, southern Slav and Polish territories, Hungary, and the Balkans). In charming contrast to these artistically arranged representations in which every detail (the color of hair, the stance, the weapons, etc.) is expressive in its political significance, is the simple work of a cleric from Ivrea who naïvely represented the emperor in his ordinary winter clothes, receiving from the hands of the Blessed Virgin a crown that has pediments like the crown of St. Stephen. Although sculptured likenesses of the emperor are rare, he is represented by a carving on the ivory holy-water font in Aachen and on the fountain at St. Bartholomew-in-the-Island, Rome, which shows the likeness of St. Adalbert on the reverse side of the column. It may be expected that future archeological discoveries will extend the knowledge of the Ottonian period.

See Also: medieval latin literature.

Bibliography: j. de ghellinck, Littérature latine au môyenage (Paris 1939) 2:943. p. e. schram, Kaiser, Rom und Renovatio (2d ed. Darmstadt 1957). e. r. curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. w. r. trask (New York 1953). f. j. e. raby, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (2d ed. Oxford 1957) 1:252306. f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford 1953) 202229. K. and m. uhlirz, Jahrbücher des Deutschen Reiches unter Otto III (Berlin 1954). j. f. bÖhmer, Die Regesten des Kaiserreiches unter Otto III, 9801002, ed. m. uhlirz (Regesta imperii 2.3; Graz-Cologne 195657). m. uhlirz, "Das deutsche Gefolge Ottos III in Italien," Gesamtdeutsche Vergangenheit: Festgabe für H. v. Srbik (Munich 1938) 2138; "Aus dem Kunstleben der Zeit Ottos III," Festschrift Schramm (Weisbaden 1964) 5156. l. grodecki et al., Le Siècle de l'an Mil (Paris 1973). The Plays of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, tr. k. wilson (New York 1989). h. mayr-harting, Ottonian Book Illumination: An Historical Study (2d ed. London 1999).

[m. uhlirz]