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Gospel and cover - The Sion Gospels Book Cover

The Sion Gospels Book Cover

  • Object:

    Gospel and cover

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (Trier ?, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1140-1150 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Beech overlaid with plaques of gold and precious stones, enamelled and with sheepskin undercover

  • Museum number:

    567-1893

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 5

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Although the manuscript of the Sion Gospels is itself beautifully written, with initials and headings in red ink, the most striking feature of the book lies in its cover. Precious bindings such as this were reserved for the liturgical manuscripts used in services.Made of gold or silver, their decoration usually included the figure of Christ or the Crucifixion and the Evangelists, the whole often lavishly encrusted with gems.

While the enamels and outer border are probably contemporary with the manuscript, the seated figure of Christ and the surrounding strips of stamped work are likely to be later in date, perhaps twelfth-century. Few of the larger stones are original as they differ considerably from those described in a fourteenth-century note on the first page of the book.There has bee 19th century restoration to some of of the enamels.

Physical description

Elaborately decorated cover enclosing a book of Gospels. The cover is of beech overlaid with plaques of gold, enriched with plaques of cloisonné enamel work and precious stones cut for the most part "en cabochon". The central plaque of the upper cover is repoussé in relief with figure of Christ in Majesty, holding up his right hand in Benediction and holding in his left hand a book. This relief is surrounded by the cloisonné enamel border with an inscription in which enamel on a translucent blue ground.

The undercover is bound with red sheepskin, upon which a cross is indicated by means of iron nails. The clasps are composed of strips of leather with mounting of silver decorated with niello.

The manuscript consists of a nearly square folio of one hundred and eighty seven leaves of vellum written by a German scribe in the tenth or eleventh-century. The text is written in bold semi-uncial characters, with initials and headings in red. The manuscript contains those sections of the Gospel which were read at mass on the chief festivals of the year. On the last page is the beginning of a decree by Pope Adrian promulgated in the reign of Charlemagne.

Place of Origin

Germany (Trier ?, made)

Date

ca. 1140-1150 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Beech overlaid with plaques of gold and precious stones, enamelled and with sheepskin undercover

Marks and inscriptions

[MATHEVS ET MARCVS] LVCAS SCSQ IOHANE [I X H]ORV VATVOR REBOAT TE XPE REDEMPTOR

Dimensions

Height: 25 cm, Width: 23.2 cm, Depth: 7.5 cm, Weight: 2.56 kg

Object history note

An attempt has been made to identify this book with the Gospels of Charlemagne, a volume recorded as having belonged the abbey of St Maurice d' Agaune, in the canton of Valais, Switzerland. There is however very good reason to suppose that it was originally made for the ancient church of Notre Dame de Valère, in the same canton, to which, according to an inscription, it belonged in the seventeenth-century. It afterwards became the property of the Cathedral of Sion in the valley below. In 1851 it was sold by the chapter to a dealer of Geneva, by whom it was sold to the Marquis de Ganay. Towards the end of the nineteenth-century, it passed into the Spitzer Collection, where various restorations were made and it was subsequently sold in Paris in 1893 when it was bought for the South Kensington Museum.

The enamels and the outer border are probably contemporary with the manuscript , but the seated figure of Christ and the surrounding strips can hardly be earlier than the twelfth century.Few of the larger stones can be original as they differ considerably from the those described in a fourteenth-century note on the first page of the book. The enamels were considerably restored in the nineteenth century.

Historical context note

Precious bindings such as this were reserved for the liturgical manuscripts used in services. Their decoration usually included the figure of Christ or the Crucifixion and the Evangelists, the whole often lavishly encrusted with gems.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cundall, J. On Bookbindings Ancient and Modern(London, G. Bell and sons, 1881) Plate II
Shows the condition of the cover prior to restoration
Lasko, P. Ars Sacra (London, 1994)
Buckton, D. Vorlaufige Ergebrisse einer optischen untersuchung des Emails der krone Studien zur machtsymbolik des mittelalterlischen Ungarn, Insignia Regni Hungariae, I, (Budapest 1983) pls 9,12,13 pp.129-143
Williamson, Paul (ed.), The Medieval Treasury, London: V&A Publications, 1998, p. 78

Labels and date

GOSPELS AND COVER
Wood overlaid with sheets of embossed gold, gems and plaques of cloisonné enamel
German; the enamels, 10th century (with restorations); the manuscript, 11th century; the rest, 12th century (with restorations).
Around the figure of Christ is the inscription (restored): mathevs et Marcus lucas s[an]c[tu]s q[ue] iohane[s] vox horv[m] quatvor reboat te xpe redemptor (Saint Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; their voice calls back your name, O Redeemer Christ).
The cover was probably made from the manuscript in the 12th century, perhaps re-using materials from dilapidated book-covers. According to a 15th-century inscription inside, the book then belonged to the Cathedral Church of Sion in Switzerland.

Production Note

Enamel plaques about 980-1000, Manuscript about 1025-1050, Binding about 1180-1200. The inscription above Christ was added before 1893 when the book cover was in the possession of Fredrick Spitzer.

Materials

Gold; Beech; Sheepskin

Techniques

Enamelled; Niello

Subjects depicted

Jesus Christ

Categories

Metalwork; Religion; Christianity

Collection code

MET

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Qr_O130971
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