Genre: Beatus Manuscripts

Impressive Colors and Masterly Images: Beatus de Liebana's Apocalypse Commentary
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Beatus Manuscripts

Beatus manuscripts, illuminated codices presenting the Commentary on the Apocalypse by the 8th century Spanish monk and theologian Saint Beatus of Liébana are among the most fascinating codices produced during the Middle Ages. They are considered to be a genre unto themselves within the larger corpus of splendid medieval manuscripts of the Apocalypse, as the Book of Revelation was more commonly referred to during the Middle Ages.

The commentary by Beatus has survived to the present in 27 manuscripts, with new specimens being discovered in recent years. They were primarily produced in Northern Spain and are of special importance for Spanish art history, although Beatus manuscripts were also produced in France and Italy. The fantastic imagery often appears convoluted to modern people, but an eye attuned to the aesthetics and symbolism of the Middle Ages can easily decipher the illumination of these significant works of art. 

Codex San Miguel de Escalada (Morgan Beatus)

Satan Bound for 1,000 Years 

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:1-2)

Satan being thrown into the Abyss for 1,000 years is one of the most dramatic events in the Book of Revelation, and is depicted here in a manuscript exemplary of both the Beatus tradition and Mozarabic art. The selection of colors had symbolic significance for a medieval audience that is lost on modern people, e.g. multicolored backgrounds representing Heaven, Earth, and Hell. With unblinking Byzantine-style eyes, the angel solemnly leads the serpent to his prison with a chain rendered in silver.

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