Ottonian Art: St. Michael’s Church

Ottonian art, as a phenomenon existing between the 10th and 11th centuries in Germany and northern France, had a tremendous impact on the development of the Romanesque art movement. Although leaving relatively modest cultural heritage in terms of example quantity, Ottonian architecture is replete with details specific to the period of Ottonian rule in the area. A prime example of such heritage is the St. Michael’s Church in Hildesheim, Germany. This church, designed by Bishop Bernward, consists of two apses, two transepts, and six towers (Kleiner, 2016). Such an architectural type is also known as the basilica, a public building specific to Ancient Roman architecture. When speaking of the church’s planning, it is necessary to outline the entrances located on the sides, creating the impression of verticality alien to Early Christian Europe.

The form of the building, although not entirely relevant to the Romanesque style, obtains various distinct features of the artistic movement, including the multitude of towers, thick walls, and small windows to keep the strength of the walls. Another feature of the Romanesque style is the explicit use of Biblical motives in the works of art. Thus, in St. Michael’s Church, the ceiling is decorated with a large fresco depicting the ancestral line of Jesus. Bernward’s Doors, another significant aspect of this building, depict Genesis and the life of Christ (Kleiner, 2016). Finally, a bronze column designed by Bishop Bernward also reflects on the episodes of Jesus Christ’s life.

Still, the absence of crossing in the church’s plan and limited use of attributes like stained glass led to the conclusion that St. Michael’s Church could not be regarded as an explicit example of Romanesque architecture. Instead, this building demonstrates the uniqueness of Ottonian art with its gradual shift from Early Christian artistic tendencies to the Romanesque movement. Still, the explicit use of Biblical motives in different decorating techniques, along with the monumentalism of the building, most resonate with the Romanesque style.


Kleiner, F. S. (2016). Gardner’s art through the ages: The Western perspective, Volume I. [VitalSource Bookshelf]. Web.

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