Royal adultery, biblical history and political conflict in Tenth Century Francia: the Lothar Crystal reconsidered

Simon MacLean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

The Lothar Crystal, sometimes called the Susanna Crystal, is one of the most famous artworks produced in Western Europe during the early Middle Ages. Much study has been devoted to its manufacture and the symbolism of its artistic scheme, which depicts accusations of adultery against the wealthy woman Susanna as narrated in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel from the Vulgate version of the Bible. A central inscription tells the viewer that the crystal was made on the instruction of a certain Lothar, king of the Franks. This king has long been identified as the Carolingian Lothar II (855-869), whose turbulent marriage and attempts at divorce caused a major political crisis during the 860s. In this article I re-examine the arguments for this attribution and suggest that it is worth considering an alternative context for the creation of the crystal: the reign of Lothar of West Francia (954-986). By reading it as a product of the later tenth century, I argue that the crystal may cast light on accusations of adultery made at that time against Queen Emma II, and on the struggle to control the important territory of Lotharingia in the crisis that followed the death of Emperor Otto II (973-983).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalFrancia
Volume49
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2022

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