Gospel Book of Otto III

Gospel Book of Otto III

Date ca. 997-1000

Movement Early Medieval | Ottonian

Medium Tempera on vellum

Dimensions each folio 13 x 9.75″

Housed at Staatsbibliothek, Munich


While early Christian works would depict Christ as an imperial figure, Otto III has taken his place here after becoming the Holy Roman Emperor, in much the same way that Justinian did in the San Vitale mosaic; further, the four parts of the empire bow and offer gifts in much the same way the Magi are usually depicted as doing so to Christ. Continuing with the Byzantine motif, the figures appear to be flat, and robs are sectioned and outlined clearly.


Roman influence is at work here in Jesus Washing the Feet of St. Peter with the soft, pink and blue pastel atmosphere and architectural background; the artists have also employed the Byzantine technique of using a backdrop of gold for the main figure. Traditionally, this composition (one figure standing, another seated, and others looking on) would have been used for a physician healing a sick person, but here it used used spiritually; it is all the more emphasized with Christ’s bulging eyes, his active arm longer than his passive, and his and St. Peter’s size larger than the other disciples.


Unlike prior symbol pages, the Gospel writer here is not depicted as writing, but having already completed his work (in his lap). The inscription reads “From the source of the fathers, the ox brings forth a flow of water for the lambs”; the artist has taken this quite literally—St. Luke holds clouds that proclaim heavenly symbols above, and life-giving water springs from where he stands.