Beatus of Liébana - Saint-Sever Codex

Ms. Lat. 8878 - Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Alternate Titles:

Beato de Liébana: Códice de Saint-Sever, Beato de Saint-Sever, Saint-Sever Beatus

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Beato de Liébana: Códice de Saint-Sever
Beato de Saint-Sever
Saint-Sever Beatus

Type
Extent / Format

592 pages / 36.7 x 28.6 cm

Origin
Date
Around 1038
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Gregorio Muntaner, abbot of Saint-Sever (1028-1072)

Artist / School

Author: Beatus of Liébana (died after 798)
Miniaturists: Stephanus Garsia and others

Illustrations

112 miniatures illuminated in gold and more than 1,400 colour initials

Short description

The Beatus of Liébana - Saint-Sever Codex is counted among the highlights of 11th century French illumination and is one of the all-time most grandiose works of illumination. The 112 miniatures, some of them even double-page, and the over 1,400 colored initials of the nearly 600-page text are amazing. The codex contains the Apocalypse commentary by the Asturian monk Beatus of Liébana as well as expositions on the Evangelists and their writing, a genealogy of Christ, and St. Jerome’s commentary of the Book on Daniel. Aside from the overwhelming visual adornment illustrating the fascinating Book of Revelation concerning the end of the world, above all it is the fact the Saint-Sever Beatus represents the only French Beatus manuscript that makes the codex so unique.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Beatus of Liébana - Saint-Sever Codex

The Saint-Sever Codex of the famous Beatus Apocalypse Commentary is counted among the highpoints of 11th century French illumination and the most grandiose works of illumination of all time. The 112 miniatures, some of them even double-sided, and over 1,400 colored initials of the text amaze on nearly 600 pages. The codex contains the famous Apocalypse commentary by the Asturian monk Beatus of Liébana in addition to expositions on the Evangelists and their writing, a genealogy of Christ, and St. Jerome’s commentary on the Book of Daniel. Aside from the overwhelming pictorial adornment illustrating the fascinating Revelation of St. John about the end of the world, above all it is the fact the Saint-Sever Beatus represents the only French Beatus manuscript that makes the codex so unique.

Beatus of Liébana’s Magnum Opus

The primary work of the Asturian monk Beatus of Liébana was popular in the Middle Ages, especially in northern Spain. Beatus of Liébana was a monk and theologian in a monastery in the Kingdom of Asturias in the north of modern Spain. He lived in the 8th century and probably died sometime after 798. He is famous for his magnum opus, the commentary on the Revelation of St. John in twelve books. The text of the Apocalypse was divided into 66 sections, after each of which followed the so-called explanatio, the commentary by Beatus on the verses. The allegorical and symbolic pictures of the Apocalypse were thus meant to be more easily understood. The end of the world was expected in the year 800, causing Beatus to compose his famous Apocalypse commentary. This manuscript from the end of the 8th century was particularly popular in north Spanish illumination during the Middle Ages and survives in 27 richly illuminated manuscripts today.

A Unique French Specimen

Nearly all of these Beatus manuscripts originate from Spain. Thus, the Saint-Sever Codex represents a unique exception, it is nevertheless the only Beatus to originate in France. It was commissioned by Grégoire de Montaner (1028-1072), Abbot of Saint-Sever. The Benedictine monastery was founded as the end of the 10th century and quickly developed into a proud and influential abbey. Under Grégoire de Montaner, Saint-Sever became a center of art and culture, gathering together important sculptors and illuminators. The master of the famous scriptorium of Saint-Sever, Stephanus Gaudus, completed the abbey’s most famous work with the help of a group of copyists and miniaturists from the scriptorium ca. 1038: the Saint-Sever Codex, which is stored today in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Fantastic Creatures and Heavenly Events

This splendid codex assembles 112 miniatures and over 1,400 colored initials on 592 pages. The most diverse influences are conveyed in the manuscript’s miniatures. Above all, the relationship to the Spanish Beatus manuscripts is clear, e.g. the page with the depiction of Babylon, surrounded by snakes, just like in other Beatus manuscripts. Yet, knowledge of African, Islamic, Oriental, and Insular art and culture are also recognizable. Ancient or Carolingian illumination clearly influenced the author’s picture in the Book of Daniel. The unbelievable visions of St. John were set against a rich gold background in an unbelievable wealth of colors and forms. The picture pages are furnished with rich ornamentation, e.g. the frontispiece with its vegetal and animal décor, as well as numerous additional carpet pages adorning the book. The compositions of the depictions are impressive, e.g. the miniature of the seventh sign on a double page. Presented there in predominantly luminous shades of red against a gold background are two rows of the chosen, who worship the Lamb of God with palm leaves in their hands. Naturally, there are terrifying pictures of angry angels and mythical creatures with the bodies of grasshoppers and awful grimaces. When immersing oneself into the unbelievable visual world of the Beatus commentary on the Apocalypse by John, it quickly becomes clear that the Saint-Sever Beatus is “one of the most important masterpieces of medieval illumination overall”.

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