The Mirror of the Soul: religious texts and biblical scenes in wonderful miniatures from Sister Isabell de Villena

Speculum Animae

Valence (Spain) — Late 15th century

Speculum Animae

Speculum Animae

Valence (Spain) — Late 15th century

  1. The work by Sister Isabell de Villena (1430-90) addresses the Passion of the Christ and other religious themes

  2. Sister Isabell was the illegitimate daughter of the Marqués de Villena (1384-1434), a high-ranking Spanish noble

  3. No less than 75 miniatures illustrate this content in delightful, subtle pen drawings

Speculum Animae

Alternative Titles:
  • Soul´s mirror
Speculum Animae – Esp. 544 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
Speculum Animae – Esp. 544 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

This wonderful Spanish manuscript of the Speculum Animae originated in the late 15th century as a work by Sister Isabell de Villena, who was from the highest social circles of the Kingdom of Castile. The Mirror of the Soul contains religious meditations about biblical themes, whereby the focal point lies on the Passion of the Christ. No less than 75 miniatures illustrate this content in wonderful pictures!

Speculum Animae

An enigmatic image composition is found immediately on the first pages of the manuscript: four medallions with mysterious scenes are always arranged around a simple red cross in the middle. Thus, we find depictions of Christ before the kneeling faithful, three men united by a halo – the Holy Trinity? –, a skeleton standing in a green field, or a wondrous monster. However, the motifs of these round picture tablets also include a gentle river landscape, a compass, and an angel.

An Impressive Testimonial to Catalonian Faith

All of these depictions illustrate a religious devotional book with the Latin title of Speculum Animae, Mirror of the Soul. Sister Isabell de Villena is considered to be the scribe and artist responsible for this impressive Catalonian manuscript. **Isabell de Villena (ca. 1430-1490) was the daughter of the famous Marqués de Villena, an important Castilian noble in the 15th century. She worked in the Real Monasterio de la Trinidad in Valencia, for which the Speculum Animae was made. The manuscript disappeared from there during the 18th century and finally reached the Spanish National Library in the 19th century.

63 Biblical Scenes

Aside from the enigmatic medallions already mentioned, the 88-page manuscript is also decorated with 63 full-page miniatures. These illustrate spiritual meditation on the Passion of the Christ with delightful, subtle pen drawings, which are also painstakingly colored. Alongside a depiction of Adam and Eve in Paradise, one primarily finds detailed scenes from the Life of Christ, from the Annunciation and birth to the Passion. Elegant, elongated figures are reminiscent of Gothic design vocabulary, and the colorful clothing and headdresses allow us to draw conclusions about the fashion of the period. As a result, the manuscript of the Speculum Animae by Isabell de Villena is an all-around impressive testimonial to Catalonian illumination and faith in the late 15th century!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Soul´s mirror
Size / Format
88 pages / 33.0 x 25.0 cm
Date
Late 15th century
Illustrations
75 miniatures, 63 of them at full-page
Artist / School
Speculum Animae

Speculum Animae

Adam and Eve in Paradise

Adam and Eve stand within the rectangular walls of the Garden of Eden, which also preserves their modesty because they have just eaten fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent winds itself around the tree, at the base of which a skull sits as an indication that death is now their fate.

Although appearing simple at first glance, this miniature is a testament to the skill of the artist who created it, Sister Isabell de Villena. The composition is perfectly balanced, the perspective is realistic, and the figures are naturalistically depicted. Adam gestures as though he is speaking to Eve, who stands holding the fruit with a serene look on her face, waist-length blonde hair, and wide, fertile hips – a nod to the pain of childbirth.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Speculum Animae“

Speculum Animae
Speculum Animae – Esp. 544 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
Speculum Animae – Esp. 544 – Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Paris, France)
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Speculum Animae

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Edilan – Madrid
Binding
Mudejar binding in leather
Commentary
1 volume by Albert Hauf i Valls and Daniel Benito Goerlich
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