An exhibition in honour of the millennium of Basel Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1019 in the presence of Emperor Henry II.
This major new show unfurls a panoramic cultural history of the reign of the last Ottonian emperor viewed from multiple perspectives.
Exquisite works on loan from private and public collections in both Europe and the United States provide vivid proof of how important Emperor Henry II and his «golden gifts» were – for both the City of Basel and the entire region.
A magnificent array of medieval goldsmithing, bronzes and textiles along with some outstanding examples of book illumination and ivory carving from the Ottonian Empire’s centres of cultural production and archaeological finds from the Basel region supply the larger context for the consecration of Basel Cathedral as a highpoint in Basel’s history. The exhibition also sheds light on how people lived a thousand years ago, Basel’s relations with the Kingdom of Burgundy, the interaction of secular rulers and the Church and the cult of Emperor Henry and Empress Kunigunde, both of whom were later canonized.
The highlight of the show is the Basel Antependium, which for the first time in decades has left Paris and temporarily returned to the place for which it was originally intended. The temporary restitution of this Golden Altar Frontal, which Emperor Henry II is believed to have gifted to Basel Cathedral at its consecration, affords us a unique opportunity to present a masterpiece intricately bound up with the history of the city alongside some of the emperor’s other gifts.
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Gifts for Eternity
Basel Cathedral was consecrated on 11 October 1019 in the presence of Emperor Henry II (r. 1002–1024). That ceremonial act concluded a process that shaped the Upper Rhine region with enduring effect, namely the Kingdom of Burgundy’s ceding of Basel to East Francia and the Holy Roman Empire in 1006.
Henry II and his successors endowed the bishop of Basel with countless rights and properties, making him the most powerful prince in the region. This in turn transformed what had been an essentially rural settlement on a bend in the River Rhine into a major urban centre. Basel’s new status is evident in its building of a city wall in the second half of the 11th century and in the much richer archaeological finds dating from this period. The structure, development and florescence of the trinational region on the Upper Rhine can thus be traced back to these events.
The emperor’s lavish gifts – the «Gifts of Henry» – formed the foundation stone for the Cathedral Treasury, which over the centuries became one of the most important church treasuries in Switzerland. Politically, the events of 1019 paved the way for the rule of the bishops and the consolidation of their power base on the Upper Rhine and in the Jura, from which the city itself also profited. As patrons of the city, Henry II and his wife Kunigunde became enshrined in Basel’s collective memory, especially following their canonization in 1146 and 1200 respectively. The growth of the cult of Henry in Basel and its political role in the life of the city are the subject of the final section of this spectacular show.
New Building of the Kunstmuseum Basel
A Tour of the Exhibition
The exhibition will occupy ten rooms of the Kunstmuseum Basel’s new building, which opened in 2016. Designed by the architects Christ & Gantenbein, this extension has the infrastructure needed to meet the highest conservational requirements.
The climax of the presentation, with numerous tours de force of goldsmithing and manuscript illumination, will be the act of consecration of 11 October 1019 itself, to which the account of Basel’s Burgundian «backstory» and an exploration of the city as it was politically, economically, and culturally in the year 1000 will serve as a lead-in.
1) Europe 1000 years ago 2) Basel in the year 1019 3) Basel from Burgundy to Henry II 4) Travelling through the realm 5) Film box/reading corner 6) Church and king 7) Gifts for Eternity 8) 1019 – a highpoint in Basel’s history 9) Basel and the cult of the imperial couple
With a choice array of magnificent objects, revealing documents and archaeological finds, this lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue brings to life the arts and culture, political machinations of the powerful and the living conditions for ordinary people prevailing during the reign of the last of the Ottonian emperors.
The catalogue of items in each section is prefaced by a brief introductory text by a specialist of renown. Readers are thus treated to a unique panorama of Europe as it was a thousand years ago.
The trilingual publication about the Golden Altar Frontal from the Basel Cathedral Treasury.
Basel Cathedral was consecrated on 11 October 1019 in the presence of Emperor Henry II (r. 1002–1024). The Golden Altar Frontal that the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II gifted to Basel Cathedral, presumably at its consecration, together with the «Cross of Henry» (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum) formed the core of the Basel Cathedral Treasury. For over 500 years, the Golden Altar Frontal displayed on all the high feast days must have turned the high altar of Basel Cathedral into a gleaming jewel.
Collaborating closely with Basel Historical Museum, researchers at the University of Basel are currently engaged in making the Basel Cathedral Treasury digitally accessible. The results of their work will serve as a basis for interdisciplinary projects aimed at probing the opportunities and possibilities opened up by computer-assisted methods in the humanities. They will also be made available to the wider public at the same time. Objects that for a thousand years have been part of Basel’s history can thus be experienced in a completely new way.
Verein für das Historische Museum Basel Stiftung für das Historische Museum Basel Sulger-Stiftung Peter und Simone Forcart-Staehelin Willy A. und Hedwig Bachofen-Henn-Stiftung Ulrich und Klara Huber-Reber-Stiftung Lucius & Annemarie Burckhardt Stiftung Isaac Dreyfus-Bernheim Stiftung Sophie und Karl Binding Stiftung Walter Senft / Gustav und Annetta Grisard Stiftung E. E. Zunft zu Hausgenossen Ulrich Stamm-Wohltätigkeitsstiftung Meyvaert, Bruxelles Prof. Dr. Hartmut Raguse Naturalsponsoring Hotel Au Violon
and other patrons who do not wish to be named.
Patrons and Advisory Committee
The exhibition is under the patronage of
Bundesrat Dr. Alain Berset Member of the Swiss Federal Council, Head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs
Frédéric Journès French Ambassador to Switzerland
Dr. Norbert Riedel German Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein
Bischof Dr. Felix Gmür Bishop of Basel
Pfarrerin Dr. Caroline Schröder Field Pastor of Basel Cathedral
Elisabeth Ackermann President of the Executive Council of Basel-Stadt
Andreas Hindemann Master Builder of Basel Cathedral
The advisory committee
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Dendorfer University of Freiburg
Dr. Holger Kempkens Director of the Diözesanmuseum Bamberg
Dr. Reto Marti Head of the Archaeology Unit of Canton Baselland
Prof. Dr. Rebecca Müller University of Munich
Prof. Dr. Jan Rüdiger University of Basel
Prof. Dr. Barbara Schellewald University of Basel
Dr. Regula Schorta Director of the Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg
Prof. Dr. Stefan Weinfurter (†) University of Heidelberg