Lindau Gospel

The Lindau Gospels is a well-known illuminated manuscript that is peculiar from historical point of view in several aspects. First of all, the metalwork covers and treasure binding of the Lindau Gospels do not belong to one period of time. Second, the manuscript has two covers with precious stones instead of one, as usual.

Despite the similarity between the objects depicted on the coverings, which are the figure of Jesus Christ and the cross, the way they are made are completely different. One of the coverings is made in the form of the three dimensional cross, decorated with precious stones and smooth gold. Another covering is made in silver that is contrasted with the animals and plans depicted in bright colors, which form together a very complicated image. The historians explain such diversity in the ways of decoration by the assumption that the coverings belong to different eras and that is why are influenced by various stylistic traditions One of the coverings is made according to the Carolingian canon, which was dominant circa 879-880s. The other covering was made under the Insular tradition, which was wide-spread approximately in 760-790s.

It is evident that the two covering of the Lindau Gospels should be analyzed separately from each other and only in the cultural context of the period they belong to. It is possible to assume that the artists of the Carolingian and the Insular traditions tried to convey different messages that were considered to be right for the Christians in their times. A comparative study of the two medieval artistic styles might be useful in decoding the interpretations that were originally meant under these pieces of art.

The main problem about studying the Lindau Gospels is in the fact that little research has been undertaken to analyze this piece of art as the entity. The main difficulty is that the historians of art usually have a narrow specialization which makes an emphasis only on a specific style, place or time. The Lindau Gospels feature two medieval styles, which makes it challenging for one person to research. In fact, it was possible to find only three article in the English language that were dedicated specifically to the analysis of the covers of the Lindau Gospels. From the point of view of the science, it is almost nothing.

In the current paper, the three articles in the English language that were possible to find on this theme would be reviewed. All of them are included and are of great importance for the further research, because they give the basis of information that is already known and thus form the starting point for the investigation.

Article Review

The Enigmatic Beasts of the Lindau Gospels Lower Cover is an article written by Jacques Guilmain in 1971. He tries to research whether it is possible to state the specific year and the place of creation of the lower covering on the basis of the research of the visual forms depicted on it. Guilmain focuses mainly on the roundels of the cross and the animal intertwine and on the basis of the analysis of these details he finds certain connections between the early period of the Viking art and the Anglo-Saxon art. He did not manage to understand when and where this covering was made. He supposes that it might have been produced even later than 780, as it is considered. He writes that those who worked on this piece of art might have been inspired by the Anglo-Saxon or early Viking art of that period of time, which explains the looks of the covering.

Despite the lack of precise conclusions about the sources of the lower cover of the Lindau Gospels, the article is still helpful in the understanding the elements of the design. Guilmain isolates all visual elements presented on the lower covering and classifies them. He shows in his work which of the animal elements in the design were wide spread in the continental Europe, which of them belonged to the Insular art, and which were connected with the early Scandinavian style. In fact, the article by Guilmain is a professional categorization of the design elements and the dominant dominant motifs of the Lindau Gospels. However, he does not pay attention to the influence of the design elements he researches on the message the piece of art tries to convey, and disregards the semantic level of the covering’s ornament (Guilman 1971, 3-18).

The second article is The ‘Earlier’ Lindau Book Cover: An Integrated Analysis by Victor Elbern published in 2000. Its conclusions are absolutely opposite to the article written by Guilmain. While Guilmain does not pay attention to the meaning of the overall picture of the covering, studying only its stylistic elements, Elbern focuses on retelling the story of Genesis, relying on the visual material of the Lindau Gospels. As the result, no attention is payed to the stylistic elements and animal imagery on the covering.

The work of Elbern is unusual and original, because not many scientists try to understand the symbolism that is behind the highly stylized ornaments. The author lacks information about the reasons why the animals were stylized in the presented way. It is considered that the person who tries to understand the meaning of the Lindau Gospels’ cover needs to be already educated in the art history in order to decipher the ornaments in the Anglo-Saxon style. The extent to which the stylized and abstract ornaments can transfer the message to the audience is dubious and there are no real ways to examine it. Perhaps, it depends entirely on the the ability of the person to feel the art, and to understand the implied meaning using his/her intuition. Another way to examine the shades of meaning of the Lindau Gospels’ coverings understanding the historical and the artistic context of the time when this piece of art was created (Elber 2000, 322-334).

John Scottus Eriugena and the Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels was published in 2001 by Jeane-Marie Musto and in a contrary to the previous two articles it discusses the upper cover of the Londau Gospels. Musto focuses on the absolutely unique parts of the cover that are not present in any other works of the Medieval art. She investigates into the iconographical characteristics of the Moon and the Sun (Luna and Sol) that are depicted above crucified Jesus, and the eight floating and grieving figures that are depicted between the parts of the cross.

The author tries to understand the strange placement of the figures that is obviously unusual to the Christian imagery of crucifixion with the help of the phisolophical work of John Scottus Eriugena and Charles the Bald. Musto concentrates both o the figures of humans and angels in the covering, and tries to analyze both the text of the Lindau Gospel and the imagery of the coverings to understand the book as the entity. She does not focus greatly on the visual and stylistic aspects of the covering, as well as she does not consider only the semantic message of the Lindau Gospels. She made an attempt to combine the results of the research of Guilmain and Elbern, and tried to understand the book as the entity. Though, the problem still was not soled in this article. The relationship between the textual level of the book and its imagery in the history of medieval art are among the most problematic issues in this sphere and are researched more precisely by the iconographical analysis (Musto 2001, 1-18).


The Lindau Gospel is a unique piece of Medieval art. It combines several genres in its two covers and the scientists still ca not find the answers to the questions when and where was it produced. Guilmain researched the stylistic characteristics of the visual objects that were depicted on the lower cover of the Lindau Gospels. He classified them and came to the conclusion that it can belong both to the Carolingian and the Insular traditions, and can not precise the time of the creation. Elbern pays little attention to the visual elements of th lower covering of the Lindau Gospels and focuses only on the implied meanings the abstractions might have. It is possible to state that the works of Elbern and Guilmain are interconnected and supplement each other. The article written by Musto is completely different form them. It investigates into the analysis of the upper cover of the Lindau Gospels, which is unique for the art of the Middle Ages both for its imagery and the way of visual representation. She makes an attempt to combine the stylistic analysis of the cover with its symbolic level, but the task is too challenging for a single research. In fact, little is made in the sphere of combining purely stylistic research and the philosophical one in the course of the history of art. The historians are not ready to work at the intersection of two fields, and there is still much work to be done in order to achieve this goal.


Elbern, Victor. H. 2000.“The ‘Earlier’ Lindau Book Cover: An Integrated Analysis.” In From Atilla to Charlemagne: Art of the Early Medieval Period in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 322-334. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Guilman, Jacques. 1971.“The Enigmatic Beasts of the Lindau Gospels Lower Cover.” Gesta 10, No. 1: 3-18.

Musto, Jeanne-Marie. 2001. “John Scottus Eriugena and the Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels.” Gesta 40, No. 1: 1-18.

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