Major Exhibit on German King and Emperor Otto I in Magdeburg
"The Holy Roman Empire...was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire." – Voltaire
Enlarge image A bronze sphere crowns the top of a Roman obelisk which stood in Alexandria during the reign of Emperor Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire. Moved to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City in 1586, it is one of over 350 items on display in Magdeburg. (© picture alliance / dpa) For its founder, the Saxon king Otto the Great (912-973), however, it was very much all of these things.
Upon being crowned Emperor by the Pope in Rome in 962, Otto I assumed the mantle and glory of the Roman Empire founded by Augustus nearly a millennium earlier: one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world.
In reviving the empire of Charlemagne, which had dissipated over the previous century, he helped usher in a cultural flourishing (the "Ottonian revival") that produced many illuminated manuscripts, churches and the spectacular sacred art of the early Middle Ages.
An Exhibition Fit for an Emperor
In 2012, the city of Magdeburg is celebrating two big occasions related to Otto the Great—his 1,100th birthday, as well as the 1,050th anniversary of his crowning as Emperor in Rome—with a major exhibition: “Otto the Great and the Roman Empire: The Empire from Antiquity to the Middle Ages,” ongoing from August 27 to December 9.
The present-day capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg traces its history to the founding by Otto I in 937 of an abbey, the Mauritiuskloster, which later became the basis for the city’s imposing cathedral on the Elbe river, the Magdeburger Dom. He thereby transformed Magdeburg from a modest trading post of traveling merchants at the edge of the Carolingian world to a city at the center of the Ottonian Empire. For anyone interested in this pivotal figure of European history, there is no better place to visit than the “Ottostadt” Magdeburg—the city of Otto the Great.
The exhibition in the Kulturhistorisches Museum of Magdeburg includes around 300 items from international museums and libraries, such as the Vatican Museums, the Capitoline Museums of Rome, the State Historical Museum of Moscow, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, among others.
The treasures on display are organized into five chapters portraying how the concept and practice of the Roman Empire evolved from the Romans themselves, to late antiquity, to the Byzantine Empire, the Carolingian dynasty, and finally the Ottonians. From the freshly restored marble statue of the head of the emperor Trajan from the State Museums of Berlin, to imperial regalia of the emperor Maxentius, to some of the most exquisite illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the exhibit is sure to dazzle visitors from around the world.
Conclusion of the "Otto Trilogy"
Enlarge image The Magdeburg exhibition devoted to Otto the Great is the centerpiece of a series of exhibits devoted to Otto throughout the state of Saxony-Anhalt. In Memleben, where Otto the Great died in the year 973, the exhibit is titled, "When the Emperor Dies: Death of the Ruler in the Middle Ages." (© picture alliance / dpa) The current exhibition is the third in a trilogy devoted to “Otto,” beginning in 2001 with “Otto the Great: Magdeburg and Europe,” and continuing in 2006 with “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.” While the preceding exhibitions focused on Otto the Great’s influence on the history of the Middle Ages, the concluding one focuses on the historical development of the Emperorship he made his own.
“Otto the Great and the Roman Empire” is the centerpiece of a number of exhibits and events taking place throughout the state of Saxony-Anhalt this fall, in the “Kaiserorte” or imperial places significant to Otto the Great and his successors. From Halberstadt, to Quedlinburg, to the lesser-known Tilleda and Gernrode, the traces of “Otto” are waiting to be discovered.