Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Escorial Beatus

This is a page from the Escorial Beatus (Escorial, Biblioteca Monasterio, Cod. & II. 5). Beatus of Liébana was an 8th century monk who wrote a commentary on the Book of Revelation. Actually "wrote" is a bit of strong word, as what he actually did was compile a bunch of other writer's comments together. For some reason his Commentary became a very popular book in the 9th and 10th centuries. There are twenty some copies extant, most of which are lavishly illustrated, often with full page miniatures. The Beatus manuscripts are an important part of what is called Mozarabic Art. There existed in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula a tradition of manuscript illustration that was unlike anything else be doing anywhere else in Europe. This tradition emphasized flat, stylized forms for the human bodies. The drapery of the clothes was portrayed as abstract patterns that gave little indication of a body beneath. There was a strong, almost garish sense of color with vivid yellows, greens and reds dominating. The iconography was often startlingly original. It seemed almost as if the entire tradition of book illumination had to be invented anew.

This manuscript dates from the 10th century. It has 151 surviving folios with 52 surviving miniatures. It was probably produced at the monastery at
San Millán de la Cogolla. It is now in the Escorial.

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