As stated by Andrews, early religious codices bound in wooden board covers and heavily decorated with precious materials like ivory, gold, jewels and enamels are known as “Treasure Bindings” (14). One of the reasons these codices are hard to find is that only a few of them were produced. Lindau Gospels is one of the codices that still have been preserved till modern times. For that reason, a significant number of scholars have dedicated their time to decode, interpreted and even reinterpret the elements of art found on the cover of Lindau Gospels. This paper discusses significant contribution made to the study of Lindau Gospels cover. It also considers the elements found on the cover of Lindau Gospels and tries to decode their meaning.
Some of the things discussed in the paper include the symbolic nature of the art used, style and function used in the 9th century when Lindau Gospels was produced. An article published on CSIS.pace.edu categorizes Lindau Gospels as a work the Carolingian Art, which was produced in the mid 9th century. The front cover of the book was designed using jewels and pearls on a golden sheet. Jewels and gold were used on the cover of the book to reflect light more luminously (Fisher 3). Like other early religious codices, Lindau Gospels is hard to find. One of the reasons for this is the fact that books were only owned by wealthy monasteries. Hundred sheep were slaughtered, and their skin was used to create books, and hundreds of hours were needed to write a single page (Fisher 7).
A scholar that significantly considers the symbolic nature of the materials found on Lindau Gospels cover is Albertoni. Like Fisher, Albertoni describes Lindau Gospels as a Late Antique work and considers the use of jewel and other precious stones as an artistic practice the Carolingians preferred (418). In the modern times, most people use jewels and other precious stones to signify beauty. However, Albertoni argues that the metals and stones on the cover of Lindau symbolize not beauty, but protection (418). Carolingian artists had to employ notorious tricks as well as use different materials not only to give an object some level of significance, but also to ensure that the content of the object was protected (Albertoni 420).
Fisher argues that Lindau Gospels contained original manuscripts and provided sources of information regarding early medieval aesthetics and scriptures, something that monasteries needed to protect. Apart from protecting its content, the elements found on the cover of Lindau Gospels act as an example of other works produced during the mid 9th century period. Cotter also provides significant information about decoding the symbolic nature of the materials found on Lindau Gospels cover. According to Cotter, materials such as gold and silver were mostly used in the ancient times on cover of books since they seem to give off heat. In that sense, if a monastery was under a threat of fire, the metals on the cover of Lindau Gospels would protect it.
Another important source regarding the symbolism of Lindau Gospels cover is Palmer. According to Palmer, Lindau Gospels was created during the Carolingian Renaissance, a period when most people could not read and write (1308). During this period, the Charlemagne, the empire at the time, literally required various scribbles to ensure effective communication throughout Europe. However, since there were few books, Charlemagne turned to Cathedrals, which used art on the cover of books to give a book some level of significance (Palmer 1309). The importance of Lindau Gospels is evident due to the fact that it was only produced during processions and could be displayed only on altars. This clearly proves that Lindau Gospels was not a common book and its content could not be taken lightly. Gospel in the 9th century was not only considered as a magnificent and sacred holy text, but it was used in exorcism (Brown 150). Apart from that, the use of precious stones on the cover of these books also presented a monastery with an opportunity to showcase its wealth, prestige, the presence of the lord and the importance of the church to the local community. This concept is in line with the Fletcher’s argument since he considers the artistic nature of Lindau Gospels in terms of treasure.
Apart from the symbolic nature of the materials found on cover of Lindau Gospels, most scholars are concerned about the artistic style and function of the cover of Lindau Gospels. Elsberg is one of the most significant scholars who studied the function and style used on the cover of Lindau Gospels. Elsberg believes that since people could not read in the 9th century, works of art mostly functioned as a metaphor for the content of the book (6). Reading was a problem during the 9th century. Therefore, stories such as the Passion were written on a stone or a golden sheet to give them a level of importance (Elsberg 9). The images found on the cover of Lindau Gospels include mourning figures of angels at the top and Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleopas’ wife at the bottom (Elsberg 9). The function of these images is similar to multi-level drawing on the Utrecht Psalter. According to Elsberg, the Psalter’s art functions as a metaphorical style that to overlay its visual representation (7). The art used on the cover of books such as Lindau Gospels had hidden meanings, and only a few people could decode them.
The images found on the cover of Lindau Gospels, in that sense, were also found in other religious codices and were mainly used to interpret biblical allusions. Considering style, however, Elsberg argues that while the visual representation found on the cover of Lindau Gospels was modeled using earlier art, the art is simple in style (7). The style found on Lindau Gospels can easily compel attention not only of the courtesans, but also of common citizens. The images of mourning figures found on the cover of Lindau Gospels are extremely stylized and disparate from aristocracy art (Elsberg 7). Furthermore, these images were rendered using local artistic styles of Reims workshop. The images are imprecise provide and function as puzzle to most people. Elsberg supposes that the images on Lindau Gospels cover are a prototypical technique utilized by the church to communicate with the community using visual tale (8). In other words, viewers of the book are able to create a mental picture of the book’s content.
Fletcher is also regarded as a significant source to learn about the style of Lindau Gospels cover. According to Fletcher, artistic nature of the Lindau Gospels’ cover is based on illumination art. Illumination art existed in the 9th century and was mostly used to produce complex and beautiful pictures. Considering the nature of most art works developed during the Carolingian Renaissance, most people expect they style used to be extremely impressive. Fletcher considers the illumination style as something that was mostly employed for instructions rather that for aesthetics. Illuminations found on Lindau Gospels cover were used to train young scribes make sense of what is written on the pages of books. Apart from that, Fletcher maintains that illumination style was not only used for training, but also to provide visual representation of the book content. According to Fletcher, illumination style also played a significant role in the beautifying the book. In his perspective, Fletcher asserts that putting effort on what was inside a book required decorating the cover of the book.
In that sense, the artistic nature of Lindau Gospels cover gives the book a certain level of importance. Therefore, while pictures on the cover depict a youthful Christ, creating an image of an early Christian art in the mind of the viewer, it is important to consider that the artistic nature of Lindau Gospels is more than just art. It is also important to consider the contribution of Patricia Lovett who carefully considers the pattern used on the cover of Lindau Gospels. Patricia Lovett also presents arguments suggesting that Lindau Gospels art, namely the image of Christ floating on precious stones, depicts the wealth of the church.
While the scholars have carefully tried to decode the pattern and style and analyzed the symbolic nature of the materials found on Lindau Gospels cover, information provided regarding the artistic nature of the cover of this book is still lacking. However, it will be wrong to say that the work of these scholars does not have any merit. Most of the authors have investigated the cover of the book, its functions and importance to the church. However, very little has been said about the art method used on the cover of Lindau Gospels. In my opinion, most of the scholars have made a significant contribution to analyzing the cover of Lindau Gospels. However, a more detailed analysis of the art elements found on the cover of Lindau Gospels could have been performed. However, it is important to note that these scholars have agreed on the fact that aesthetics was not considered when the cover of Lindau Gospels was being produced and considered other significant aspects.