Beatus of Liébana - San Miguel de Escalada Codex

Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)

Alternate Titles:

Apocalipsis de San Juan. Beato de Liebana. San Miguel de Escalada, Morgan Beatus, Ashburnham-Morgan Beatus

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Apocalipsis de San Juan. Beato de Liebana. San Miguel de Escalada
Morgan Beatus
Ashburnham-Morgan Beatus

Type
Extent / Format

2 volumes - 606 pages / 38.7 x 28.5 cm

Origin
Date
Around 940-945
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Abbot Victor of the Monastery of San Miguel de Escalada

Artist / School

Author: Beatus of Liébana (died after 798)
Scribe and Miniaturist: Illuminated by Maius (926-968)

Illustrations

131 miniatures

Former owners

Martín Perez de Ayala, archbishop of Valencia
Henry Yates Thompson

Short description

The first illustrated manuscript of the famous Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana set standards that influenced two centuries of artists thereafter. The so-called Beatus of San Miguel de Escalda Codex or Morgan Beatus (after its present repository, the Morgan Library in New York), originated in the middle of the 10th century as a commission for Abbot Victor of the San Miguel de Escalada Abbey. The scribe and master of the 131 miniatures, which he immortalized himself in his famous work, bore the name of Maius. He was active in the famous scriptorium of San Salvador de Tábara. In the Morgan Beatus, Maius expressed his impressive mastery, in both high artistic quality as well as innovative pictorial invention. The manuscript with innovative elements for the illustration of the Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana stands at the beginning of a long and one of the most important traditions of northern Spanish illumination.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Beatus of Liébana - San Miguel de Escalada Codex

The first illustrated manuscript of the famous Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana set standards that influenced two centuries of artists thereafter. The so-called Beatus of San Miguel de Escalda Codex or Morgan Beatus (after its present repository, the Morgan Library in New York), originated in the mid-10th century as a commission for Abbot Victor of the San Miguel de Escalada Abbey. The scribe and master of the 131 miniatures, which he immortalized himself in his famous work, bore the name of Maius. He was active in the famous scriptorium of San Salvador de Tábara. In the Morgan Beatus, Maius expressed his impressive mastery, in both high artistic quality as well as innovative pictorial invention. The manuscript with innovative elements for the illustration of the Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana stands at the beginning of a long and one of the most important traditions of northern Spanish illumination.

The Master from Tábara

In the so-called Tábara Beatus (not to be confused with the Morgan Beatus), there is a famous depiction of the famous scriptorium of Tábara in a tower. In that very tower-scriptorium in San Salvador de Tábara, worked the masterful scribe and miniaturist Maius (926-968), who is also buried in Tábara. It was he who completed a pioneering, splendidly illuminated Beatus manuscript in years ca. 940-945. The San Miguel de Escalada Codex, divided today into two volumes, contains a colophon, in which Maius states his names and that of his commissioner, the place of origin, and the year of its creation. This precious detail allows us a wonderful glimpse into the circumstances of the creation of such a valuable manuscript.

The Eventful Ownership History

Its eventful provenance also makes the significance of the Morgan Beatus clear. Abbot Victor of San Miguel de Escalada is named as the original commissioner. From there the manuscript began a long voyage before it reached is present day repository. So it was, among others, in the possession of the Archbishop of Valencia in the 16th century and came into the possession of an Italian collector in the 19th century. Thereafter the Beatus of San Miguel de Escalada was acquired by an Earl of Ashburnham, later belonged to Henry Yates Thompson, and finally found its way into the possession of J.P. Morgan in 1919, still constituting one of the treasures of his valuable library collection in New York today.

The First Beatus

As the oldest complete manuscript of the Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana, the Morgan Beatus stands at the beginning of a long tradition The famous Apocalypse commentary, which arose in 776 and consisted of 12 books, by the Asturian monk and theologian Beatus of Liébana was a chief subject of illumination in Spain from the 10th to the 12th centuries. The often terrifying and altogether fantastical pictures of the end of the world from the Book of Revelation offered the miniaturists the opportunity to give full scope to their fantasy and to add their fantasies away from reality.

Masterful, Pioneering Representations

The miniaturist Maius was the first to illustrate the complete text by Beatus of Liébana. With his miniatures, the master from Tábara set a new standard. He created pioneering pictorial subjects that were supposedly adopted and refined in the following centuries by numerous miniaturists. Impressive scenes play out before a brightly colored background, which with its arrangement of yellow, green, and red color stripes give rise to an unreal, eschatological world. The miniatures are bordered by gorgeous, ornamentally designed frames. Depictions of the heavenly Jerusalem, the adoration of the lamb, or the angels blowing the trumpets of the Apocalypse indicate the innovative reinventions of pictorial adornment alongside their “exceptional artistic quality” in particular. In the manuscript, Maius also names his motives: he wants to elucidate the terror of the coming Day of Judgement. He achieved this goal with a supreme performance. His illustrations of the Apocalypse commentary of Beatus of Liébana are still able to captivate the beholder today with luminous colors, artful forms, and fantastical content.

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