Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex Facsimile Edition

Monastery of Valeránica (Spain) — Ca. 930

Created and beautifully illuminated almost 1,100 years ago: one of the oldest surviving Beatus manuscripts

  1. Originating ca. 930 in the north of Spain, this is one of the earliest specimens of Beatus manuscripts

  2. Human and animal figures are painted with a creative naivety in the 27 surviving miniatures

  3. The figures contrast with the unvarnished violence and brutality of the events of the Apocalypse

Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

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Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

The Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana was one of the most popular theological works of the Middle Ages, which is attested to by the more than two dozen illuminated manuscripts of the work that have survived to the present. Known as the Emilianense Codex, this manuscript has a unique position as one of the oldest specimens of the Beatus tradition. Created ca. 930, it features 27 brightly colored miniatures incorporating influences from Moorish and Late Antique art that feature figures in flowing robes with wide eyes and expressive gestures.

Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

The Emilianense Codex is an illustrated Beatus manuscript that counts among the earliest specimens of these codices, which were universally popular in the Middle Ages. Originating ca. 930 in the north of Spain, the codex contains the Apocalypse Commentary of Beatus of Liébana in its original form and is almost unique in that way. This historically valuable content was completed with 27 miniatures that lead the apocalyptic events before one’s eyes in powerfully colorful pictures.

A Splendid Contemporary Witness

The so-called Emilianense Codex originated ca. 930 in the scriptorium of the Sahagún Monastery in northern Spain. Beatus of Liébana composed his famous main work only 150 years before the scribes and miniaturists set to work on this Romanesque book treasure. This commentary on the Apocalypse of John in 12 books (ca. 776) found wide distribution in the Middle Ages and was recorded in Spain in particularly splendid manuscripts. 27 illustrated specimens of these identified Beatus Codices are still known today. The Emilianense Codex counts among the oldest, along with the Beatus of San Miguel de Escalada, of those stored in the Morgan Library in New York.

The Original Text of Beatus

The exterior of the codex already allows the exciting content of the book to be unlocked. The leather binding with brass clasps was adorned with star-shaped fittings. The 288 large-format vellum pages also lend a noble air to the manuscript. The Beatus text is divided into two columns and is continuously broken up by admittedly simply colored, yet artfully contoured initials. Additionally, 27 surviving, brightly-colored miniatures adorn the text (originally the codex contained more than 60). Sometimes these show only one or two figures, which illustrated the text, at other times they show group depictions with the hosts of angels.

Captivating Miniatures

Puffy garments and naively depicted bodies characterize the style of the figures, whose faces are artfully designed with big eyes and expressive gestures. Yet these figures practically disappear in the ornamentally well-structured background. The fine and detailed configurations of the miniatures are reminiscent of Arabic ornamentation. In parts the miniatures are framed by organic decorative borders, in other parts architectural elements make up the background. Yet this design, gorgeous at first glance, is fractured on closer inspection through the often gruesome pictures, such as (by the opening of the Fifth Seal) bleeding heads lying next to their naked corpses, or the unvarnished scene of a beheading. The great number of angels, who populate the miniatures, many with beautiful wings, is striking. The depictions of animals also amaze in their creative naivety, sometimes the tiger or the lion, frogs, or the artfully embellished snake. The manuscript was stored in the San Millán de la Cogolla Monastery and came to Burgos in the 19th century. Serafín Estébanez Calderón, a famous politician and great lover of books, acquired the codex for his collection. Through him, the so-called Emilianese Codex finally reached the Spanish National Library in Madrid, where it is housed today.


Alternative Titles
Beatus Emilianense de la Biblioteca Nacional
Beato Antiguo
Beato Primero
Beatus de Liébana
Size / Format
288 pages / 35.0 × 25.0 cm
Ca. 930
27 miniatures
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla (La Rioja)
Monastery of Burgos
Serafín Estébanez Calderón
Spanish Ministry of Public Works

Available facsimile editions:
Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex – Vit. 14-1 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Facsimile Edition
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2007
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Detail Picture

Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

Musicians of the Apocalypse

Bowed instruments appeared in Spain during the 10th century, making this one of the earliest depictions of them. These four musicians are playing some sort of early viola but hold it upright in the manner of a cello rather than under the chin. Each is depicted wearing a different colored robe with decorative stripes, and their instruments are all dyed a different color as well. The three musicians on the left also appear to be following the lead of their darkly dressed colleague on the right.

Beato Emilianense de la Biblioteca Nacional
Single Page

Beatus of Liébana - Emilianense Codex

Harvest and Winepress

An oft-repeated metaphor in the Book of Revelation for how God will separate the blessed from the wicked is that of winemaking, specifically the imagery of the harvest and of separating the wine from the stems, skins, etc. The winepress thus represents the punishment of the wicked and their expulsion from the community of the saved.

A vine connects the earthly harvesters, one of whom is cutting wheat, with their angelic overseers in Heaven, which is represented by an altar at the top of the page. Meanwhile, the bottom register shows a realistic depiction of a medieval winepress: “So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” (Rev. 14:19)

Beato Emilianense de la Biblioteca Nacional
Facsimile Editions

#1 Beato Emilianense de la Biblioteca Nacional

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2007

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2007
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Binding: Leather with brass clasps and fittings
Commentary: 1 volume by Rosa Regàs, Joaquin González Echegarya, Rosario Jiménenz Zabalegui and Peter Klein
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
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