The Women at the Tomb
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Ottonian, Mainz or Fulda, about 1025 - 1050
Tempera colors and gold on parchment


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Within an unusual cycle of miniatures from the Life of Christ in this Ottonian sacramentary, an image of the Women at the Tomb precedes the text of the prayers of the Mass. As described in Matthew's Gospel, two women followers approached Christ's tomb after his Crucifixion to anoint his body. Upon their arrival, an angel greeted them and announced that Jesus had risen from his tomb.

On the left the two women carry gold containers of balm and a censor with incense, details especially resonant with the manuscript's liturgical function. The angel sits on the floating lid of the empty sarcophagus in front of the doorway of Jesus' tomb, where the empty shroud hovers. On the lower right the three Roman soldiers who were guarding the tomb sleep in a cluster, having missed the drama of the angel's announcement and Jesus' Resurrection.

The scene is set before a background of colored bands marked by streaks of graduated colors, an Ottonian version of the atmospheric perspective found in ancient Roman illusionistic painting. Here the illusionism becomes abstract; the contrasting colors of blue and pink and red and green, alternating in bands, make an attractive pattern but fail to convey the illusion of a distant sky.