News | March 17, 2023

Getty Acquires 11th Century Irmengard Codex

Dr. Günther Rare Books/Getty Museum

Irmengard and Her Husband Werner

The Getty Museum has acquired the Irmengard Codex, a manuscript made for the 11th century noblewoman Irmengard of Nellenburg, a member of the House of Egisheim-Dagsburg in Germany.

“The Irmengard Codex, with its unusually rich body of imagery, is a spectacular example of early medieval manuscript illumination, the likes of which has not appeared on the market in over half a century," said Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the Getty Museum.

The Irmengard Codex was created in Germany in the mid-11th century. A collection of readings for the Mass, the manuscript contains 15 full-page illuminations executed in the otherworldly pinks, blues, and lavenders that characterize painting of the so-called long Ottonian era.

The Ottonian Empire took its name from three consecutive emperors named Otto, who ruled in the 10th and early 11th centuries, but the cultural age continued into the reign of the Salian emperors, who ruled Germanic lands from 1024 to 1125. Irmengard of Nellenburg, the codex’s patron, was a member of a powerful local ruling family, the House of Egisheim-Dagsburg. She was related to Pope Leo IX (1002-1054) and was the Ottonian Emperor Henry II's niece (973-1024).

Based on the script, it is thought that the text of the Irmengard Codex was written around 1030-1050. The full-page miniatures were added shortly after 1053 at the order of Irmengard. The illumination program culminates in an extremely rare dedication image in which Irmengard presents her book in memory of her deceased husband Werner and their son Adalbert, who were killed in 1053 at the Battle of Civitate.

The starkly beautiful illuminations include portraits of the four evangelists and images that highlight the most important feasts of the Christian calendar. Illuminations such as the Annunciation and the Three Marys at the Tomb are conceived as double-page spreads, with the scene spanning across both pages to form a single composition. This dramatic narrative device was also utilized in the final two-page spread featuring Irmengard and her husband offering the book itself to Christ and Saint Michael.

“The Irmengard Codex represents the preeminent center of German illumination of the period, the Reichenau school, in which the powerful and theatrical figures underscore the stateliness of events they enact,” says Elizabeth Morrison, senior curator of manuscripts at the Getty Museum. “We have been unable to add any object from this remote era to the collection since the 1980s, so it is impossible to overstate the historic rarity of this acquisition.”

The manuscript will be showcased in an upcoming exhibition in Fall 2023.