The Ottonian Renaissance was a renaissance of Byzantine and Late Antique art in Central and Southern Europe that accompanied the reigns of the first three Holy Roman Emperors of the Ottonian (or Saxon) dynasty: Otto I (936–973), Otto II (973–983), and Otto III (983–1002), and which in large part depended upon their patronage.
The concept of a renaissance was first applied to the Ottonian period by the German historian Hans Naumann - more precisely, his work published in 1927 grouped the Carolingian and Ottonian periods together under the title Karolingische und ottonische Renaissance (The Carolingian and Ottonian Renaissance). This was only two years after Erna Patzelt's coining of the term 'Carolingian Renaissance' (Die Karolingische Renaissance: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Kultur des frühen Mittelalters, Vienna, 1924), and the same year as Charles H. Haskins published The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge Mass., 1927)
One of three medieval renaissances, the Ottonian Renaissance began after King Otto's marriage to Adelaide of Italy (951) united the Italian and German kingdoms, and thus brought the West closer to Byzantium. He furthered the cause of Christian (political) unity with his Imperial coronation in 962 by the Pope at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
The period is sometimes extended to cover the reign of Emperor Henry II (1014-1024) as well, and, rarely, his Salian successors. The term is generally confined to Imperial court culture conducted in Latin in Germany. - it is sometimes also known as the Renaissance of the 10th Century, or 10th Century Renaissance, so as to include developments outside Germania, or as the Year 1000 Renewal, due to coming right at the end of the 11th century. It was shorter than the preceding Carolingian Renaissance and to a large extent a continuation of it - this has led historians such as Pierre Riché to prefer evoking it as a 'third Carolingian renaissance', covering the 10th century and running over into the 11th century, with the 'first Carolingian renaissance' occurring during Charlemagne's own reign and the 'second Carolingian renaissance' happening under his successors.
The Ottonian Renaissance is recognized especially in the arts and architecture, invigorated by renewed contact with Constantinople, in some revived cathedral schools, such as that of Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, in the production of illuminated manuscripts from a handful of elite scriptoria, such as Quedlinburg Abbey, founded by Otto in 936, and in political ideology. The Imperial court became the center of religious and spiritual life, led by the example of women of the royal family: Matilda the literate mother of Otto I, his sister Gerberga of Saxony, or his consort Adelaide. The Byzantine influence further increased with the marriage of Otto II with Princess Theophanu, who upon her husband's death in 983 ruled as Empress dowager for her minor son Otto III until 991.
After Otto I's Imperial coronation, there emerged a renewed faith in the idea of Empire in Otto's immediate circle and a reformed church, creating a period of heightened cultural and artistic fervor. Ottonian art was a court art, created to confirm a direct Holy and Imperial lineage as a source of legitimized power linked from Constantine and Justinian. In this atmosphere the masterpieces that were created fused the traditions which the new art was based on: paintings from Late Antiquity, the Carolingian period, and Byzantium. In this way, the term is used as an analogue to the Carolingian Renaissance which accompanied Charlemagne's coronation in 800.
A small group of Ottonian monasteries received direct sponsorship from the Emperor and bishops and produced some magnificent medieval illuminated manuscripts, the premier art form of the time. Corvey produced some of the first manuscripts, followed by the scriptorium at Hildesheim after 1000. The most famous Ottonian scriptorium was at the island monastery of Reichenau on Lake Constance: hardly any other works have formed the image of Ottonian art as much as the miniatures which originated there. One of the greatest Reichenau works was the Codex Egberti, containing narrative miniatures of the life of Christ, the earliest such cycle, in a fusion of styles including Carolingian traditions as well as traces of insular and Byzantine influences. Other well known manuscripts included the Reichenau Evangeliary, the Liuther Codex, the Pericopes of Henry II, the Bamberg Apocalypse and the Hitda Codex.
Hroswitha of Gandersheim characterises the changes which took place during the time. She was a nun who composed verse and drama, based on the classical works of Terence. The architecture of the period was also innovative and represents a predecessor to the later Romanesque.
Politically, theories of Christian unity and empire thrived, as well as revived classical notions of Imperial grandeur in the West. By Otto II's Greek wife Theophanu, Byzantine iconography entered the West. The globus cruciger became a symbol of kingly power and the Holy Roman Emperors were represented as crowned by Christ in the Byzantine fashion. It was in trying to revive the "glory that was Rome" that Otto III made the Eternal City his capital and increased in Greco-Roman fashion the ceremony of the court.
Leading figures of the Ottonian Renaissance
- Bernward of Hildesheim
- Hroswitha of Gandersheim
- Otto I, Otto II, Otto III, and Henry II
- Hermannus Contractus
- Gerbert of Aurillac, pope as Sylvester II
- Guido of Arezzo
- Liutprand of Cremona, author of Historia Ottonis ("The Deeds of Otto")
- Bruno I, Archbishop of Cologne
- Widukind of Corvey, author of Res gestae Saxonicae ("The Deeds of the Saxons")
- Adelaide, Abbess of Vilich
- Egbert, Archbishop of Trier
- Frankfurt-am-Main, 1927
- Kenneth Sidwell, Reading Medieval Latin (Cambridge University Press, 1995) takes the end of Otto III's reign as the close of the Ottonian Renaissance.
- (in French) P. Riché, Les Carolingiens, p. 390
- P. Riché et J. Verger, Des nains sur des épaules de géants. Maîtres et élèves au Moyen Âge, Paris, Tallandier, 2006, p. 68
- P. Riché et J. Verger, chapitre IV, « La Troisième Renaissance caroligienne », p. 59 sqq., chapter IV, « La Troisième Renaissance caroligienne », p.59 sqq.
- Harlie Kay Gallatin, "Western Europe in the High Middle Ages: An Overview From c. 900 to c. 1300": "Ottonian Renaissance"
- Hermann Aubin, Otto der Grosse und die Erneuerung des abendländischen Kaisertums im Jahre 962 (1962)