Academic journal article Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art

Abbess Uta of Regensburg and Patterns of Female Patronage around 1000 *

Academic journal article Aurora, The Journal of the History of Art

Abbess Uta of Regensburg and Patterns of Female Patronage around 1000 *

Article excerpt

Having composed eight metrical legends, six plays, one visionary poem, and three historical epics, Hrotsvita of Gandersheim is justly known to students of the Middle Ages as one of the most prolific and compelling writers of her age. Editions and translations of her work are plentiful, and investigations of her life and writings appear in almost every survey of medieval women. (1) A member of the royal canonry of Gandersheim in the second half of the tenth century, Hrotsvita was certainly familiar with the affairs of the court, as is evidenced by such historical works as her biography of Otto I. (2) Her legends, incorporating a rich variety of material from patristic sources, and her plays, consciously based in part on the model of the Roman playwright Terence, reveal a level of education matching the most intellectual members of the Ottonian world, male or female. (3) Although Hrotsvita attributed her training to a woman named Rikkardis and to her abbess Gerberga, various prefatory statements indicate that her works were also written with a male audience in mind. (4) Other comments suggest that Hrotsvita was well aware of her unusual status as a female author in the late tenth century, and we may assume that, in her own time, she was the object of both admiration and skepticism.

The plethora of modern writing about Hrotsvita, however, is inversely proportional to the amount of contemporary evidence concerning her life, although scholars have done a remarkable job of teasing out such information and subjecting her writings to complex and nuanced analyses. Nevertheless, it seems that Hrotsvita's work did not enjoy a wide distribution during her own lifetime. In fact, there exists only a single tenth-century manuscript copy of Hrotsvita's opus, from the collection of the monastery of St. Emmeram in Bavarian Regensburg. (5) Although relatively far from Saxon Gandersheim, Regensburg was home to a collateral branch of the Ottonian rulers; it was also the native city of Gerberga, niece of Emperor Otto II and Hrotsvita's abbess. It is probable that the manuscript of Hrotsvita's works thus came to St. Emmeram through Gerberga, whom Hrotsvita credited with learning even greater than her own. Gerberga likely received some of her own training courtesy of the St. Emmeram monastery, which was among the greatest centers of monastic learning and culture in tenth- and eleventh-century Germany. (6)

St. Emmeram was not the only religious institution of note in Regensburg, an ancient Roman city that could trace its Christian origins back at least to the seventh century. (7) By the end of the tenth century, Regensburg was a thriving religious center, home to a cathedral, two canonries, and three separate female monastic houses--Obermunster, Mittelmunster, and Niedermunster. (8) The first had been re-established for women in the Carolingian period by Hemma, wife of Emperor Louis the German. The second was newly founded toward the end of the tenth century by Wolfgang, the bishop of Regensburg. The abbess of the third from c.990 to c.1025 was Uta; two luxurious illuminated manuscripts associated with Uta allow us to draw a number of conclusions about her and the nature of female patronage in Ottonian Germany.

The earliest extant textual document from Niedermunster is a manuscript from around 990 that contains four full page frontispieces and the texts of two monastic rules. The book, made in St. Emmeram but now in Bamberg, opens with a picture of "Duke Henry of Bavaria" (fol. 4v), followed by a representation of St. Benedict (fol. 5v), which precedes the text of the Benedictine rule. Thereafter comes an image of Abbess Uta (fol. 58v; Fig. 1), and finally, a picture of St. Caesarius of Aries handing over his rule to two nuns (fol. 65r), followed by the text of his rule. (9) Although the manuscript is curious for a number of reasons, the circumstances surrounding its creation are outlined clearly in a poem facing the image of Duke Henry. …

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