(active before 1000 in Castile)

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

before 1000
Manuscript (Cod. & II. 5), 395 x 225 mm
Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

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. One of the centres of production of Beatus apocalyptic book was San Millán de la Cogolla in old Castile, a scriptorium that produced a number of important copies of the commentary on Revelation, among them that which is now in the library of San Lorenzo at El Escorial near Madrid and which was completed before the year 1000.

The manuscript of 151 folios in El Escorial contains the commentary by Beatus Liébana (died not before 798), illustrated with 52 small miniatures, written around 785, in anticipation of the end of the world, predicted for the year 800.

The miniatures, still very much in the Mozarabic mode, with figures that have a folk or even naive look to the modern eye. The miniature on folio 120r illustrates the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. It shows the day of judgment in terms of a harvest. We see the Son of man seated upon a cloud, and around him the angels bearing sickles, and the plants and vines of the earth. The kind of winepress, of which we see a beam and a spiral thread is still used in Mediterranean countries.