Doors of Bishop Bernward
Movement Early Medieval | Ottonian
Height approx. 16′
Located at Hildesheim Cathedral, Germany
Commissioned by Bishop Bernward for the Abbey Church of St. Michael’s and was perhaps influenced by the doors of early Roman or Byzantine churches. These doors are thought to be the first large-scale bronze work made in the lost-wax process since antiquity, and are also the first doors since Early Christian structures to tell a narrative. Old Testament stories and themes on the left, are correlated to and balanced by those of the New Testament on the right.
In the Accusation and Judgment of Adam and Eve, God’s accusatory finger, against a stark, empty background, creates a strong focal point in the work; the point of blame continues from Adam to Eve, and even the tree appears to point the blame toward her, who then points to the serpent at her feet. The figures are arranged and stand in such a way that their disappointment and shame is almost palpable to the viewer. The inscription at the bottom, written in Roman characters, was added when the door was removed and put in place at the Hildesheim Cathedral.
The Temptation and Fall panel would have counterposed the one to its right of The Crucifixion; the central tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was thought to have been the same tree from which the Cross was built—it is in the center position in its panel; Adam and Eve’s arms stretch toward the tree, mirroring the spears piercing Christ’s body. Eve’s pose has been accentuated here to emphasize her as a seductress; this was a view held especially by Bishop Bernward as he sought to impose celibacy amongst his monks.