(active around 975 in Tábara)

Beatus of Liébana: Commentary on the Revelation of St. John

Manuscript (Ms. 7), 400 x 260 mm
Cathedral Archives, Girona

Spanish book art in the early Middle Ages was of a singular order. Its unmistakable look derived principally from the Islamic conquest : in the 8th century, the highly advanced culture of the Arab world was disseminated over more than half of the Iberian peninsula, and, through contact with the native aesthetic elements of West Gothic early Christianity, a distinctive cross-over Mozarabic style evolved. The illustrated commentaries on the Revelation of St. John by Beatus Liébana clearly signifies Spain's role as a fascinating crucible of the most diverse of influences. Oriental, Mozarabic and West Gothic influences can be detected.

Twenty-three richly illustrated codices survived between the 10th and 13th centuries. The manuscript of 284 folios in Girona contains the commentary by Beatus Liébana (died not before 798), illustrated with 118 miniatures, written around 785, in anticipation of the end of the world, predicted for the year 800. It was commissioned by Abbot Dominicus of the Abbey of San Salvador de Tábara (near Zamora). This is one of the loveliest and most important of all Beatus commentaries that have been preserved from Spain.

The miniatures in the Girona manuscript include scenes from the life of Christ. The present picture shows folio 16v with a crucifixion scene. In it the various details are identified by inscriptions, such as the personifications of the sun and moon near the head of the crucified Christ. The two thieves are identified as Gestas and Dismas. Beneath the cross, according to legend, Adam lies buried, his original sin to be redeemed by the New Adam, Christ.

In the vigour of its visual presentation and the copiousness of its monstrous, poetic visions, the Girona manuscript is unexcelled. The monastery scriptorium of Tábara was the foremost centre of Spanish book illumination in the tenth century.