Timed to coincide with the 1000th anniversary of the Basel cathedral’s consecration, which was celebrated in the fall of 1019 in the presence of Emperor Henry II, the exhibition Gold & Glory. Gifts for Eternity unfurls a panorama of cultural history that explores the reign and culture of the last Ottonian ruler from a variety of perspectives. Precious artifacts on loan from private and public collections in Europe and the United States illustrate the central role that Henry II and his “golden gifts” played for Basel and the region.
The pioneering exhibition underscores the significance and context of what proved to be watershed events in the history of the city and the surrounding countryside: the demise of the Kingdom of Burgundy, the incorporation of Basel into the dominion of the East Frankish–German king, and the bestowal upon the bishop of Basel of privileges and territories that strengthened his position. This historical process culminated in the consecration of the minster in 1019 and the imperial gifts to the Basel church. The display brings a development into focus that is crucial to an understanding of Basel’s rise as a prosperous city and economic hub.
A rich selection of magnificent medieval goldwork, bronzes, and textiles, outstanding examples of book painting and ivory carving from the cultural centers of the Ottonian empire, and archaeological finds from Basel and the region help contextualize the consecration of the minster as Basel’s “moment of glory.” The presentation also sheds light on what life was like around 1000, Basel’s relations with the Kingdom of Burgundy, the interactions between the imperial throne and the Church, and the cult around Henry and his wife, Empress Cunigunde, who were later canonized.
The highlight in the exhibition is the golden altar frontal, which returns from Paris to its designated home for the first time in many decades. The temporary repatriation of this gilded altar decoration, which was probably gifted to the Basel cathedral by Henry II on occasion of the building’s consecration, presents a singular opportunity to showcase, amid the emperor’s other gifts, a masterwork whose history is intimately intertwined with that of the city on the Rhine.