Of the many different works completed under the patronage of the Frankish Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, perhaps one of the most well-known is the Cathedral of Saint Michael’s at Hildesheim. Treasures from within this time period were on display at the Met earlier this year (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013); the exhibit and its subsequent treasures have had books written about them during this time and are periodically available for display in other locations. During the time of the creation of Saint Michael’s at Hildesheim some of the most significant permanent churches were being built in Medieval Northwestern Europe. These churches reflected a mixture of the barbarian, or pagan, Northwestern European styles coupled with Roman early-Christian artistic styles. This created a mixture of images and creations that displayed a discomfort with the human figure and interest in the human figure which intertwined to create both decorative forms and monsters, and Christianized works, those that are flattened and spiritualized the treatment of that which was figurative in the true Greco-Roman tradition. This dynamic is reflected throughout the exhibit, working to display the “complex and varied culture of often overlapping religion, politics, and private life” of twelfth century Europe, wherein “works of art (and religious architecture) delivered the Christian message by glorifying the Holy” (Bullock, 2013). At the same time, they work to reveal the different aspects associated with the time period, the paganism that was still present, and the adoption of certain aspects thereof in the Christian artwork and buildings as a means of working to bring the individuals into the new religion of the state.

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The Ringelheim Crucifix, “carved of linden wood and oak, and measuring over sixty-three inches in height,… is one of the very earliest surviving examples of three-dimensional medieval sculpture, the volumes of its form organized by simple, sophisticated lines and rhythms” (Bullock, 2013). Greco-Roman sculpture is traditionally rigid and stylized and typically carved from stone or marble, though some were comprised of “ivory plates laid over wooden frames with draperies of gold;” Greco-Roman sculpture is above all “simple, balanced, and restrained (with) the classical figure…composed and solemn” (Essential Humanities, 2013). In this manner, the Ringelheim Crucifix works to imitate the Greco-Roman sculptures in that though the material is different, and the individual carved is far plainer than that of traditional Greco-Roman sculpture, it is basic, balanced, restrained, and the figure of Jesus displayed on the cross is both composed and solemn in expression (Bloomberg, 2013).

Bernward’s Candlesticks are “lavishly decorated with a variety of motifs, including abundant foliage, nude men riding dragons, and figures climbing the vine-covered shaft or eating grapes, which might allude to the Eucharist” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). The Candlesticks show a distinct blending of the pagan in the nudity and the dragons, combined seamlessly with the Christian motifs associated with the Eucharist and the grapes possibly alluding to wine, used as the blood of Christ in Communion services.
The Baptismal Font, completed after Bishop Bernward’s death shows an expansion and enrichment of the Roman artistic forms through the tradition established by the Bishop in the crypt doors in the representations of the men and women around the circumference of the font itself. Such figures are depicted in the traditional Roman style, offering a clear view into the depicted scene while refraining from detracting from that which it is attempting to show in keeping the straight and stylized lines, the clear, yet solemn images, and the plain depictions without additional adornment needed.

Of the forty eight different objects retrieved from St. Michael’s Cathedral at Hildesheim, perhaps the other two of particular note include the Small Bernward Gospel and the Arm Reliquary (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). The Bernward Gospel, over 100 years old when Bernward first saw it, is so called because he commissioned a new cover for the book after having seen it (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). The cover was created in stages, with the ivory and the jewels being added; it was referred to as the Bernward Gospel from this point forth as the new cover also included Bernward’s monogram in the back center of the cover itself (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). The Arm Reliquary is equally unusual, in that it was created for an atypical purpose, to honor a military saint, Maurice, “commander of the Roman army’s fabled Theban Legion in the third century” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). Most reliquaries are a container or receptacle that is used for either keeping or displaying artifacts, but instead this is a casting to represent the saint’s arm, making it more unusual still.

The “Medieval Church Treasures from Hildesheim” exhibit allows individuals of all ages to be able to better understand the different artistic characteristics that were present during this time, offering a true find for historians, art aficionados, and the common man. By working to understand the different influences and their associated meanings, it is possible to understand not only how society progressed during this time, but how different cultures and ideals worked to blend together seamlessly to create something uniquely stylized and still as beautiful to this day as it was when it was new. With each viewing of the items present within the collection, it is possible for the viewer to obtain a new appreciation for the item, and a new respect for the work that went into the creation of the piece.

  • Bloomberg. “‘Ringelheim Crucifix’: Image.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013. .
  • Bullock, Robert E. “Hildesheim’s Medieval Splendor.” The New York Sun. The New York Sun, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013. .
  • Essential Humanities. “Greek Sculpture.” Essential Humanities. Essential Humanities, 2013. Web. 26 Nov. 2013. .
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Arm Reliquary.” Exhibitions. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Web. 28 Nov. 2013. .