The Geneva Beatus: Not what anyone was expecting.
February 9, 2014 4:16 PM   Subscribe

The Beatus Cycle refers the nearly 30 surviving illuminated manuscripts based on an 8th century commentary on the Book of the Apocalypse by Saint Beatus of Liebana. The commentary is primarily composed of excerpts from works by theologians such as Augustine, Ambrose and Irenaeus. While the original manuscript had illustrations interspersed with the text, beginning with Maius in the mid-10th century, the paintings were moved to more prominent full or double pages with borders. (Here’s an example of the Maius manuscript format.) As the manuscript was repeatedly copied throughout the Christian portions of the Iberian Peninsula, the original iconography combined with Maius’ layout was preserved mostly intact. In 2007 a new Beatus manuscript came to light – the 11th-century Genevan Beatus.

From the script it appears this was created in 11th century in Italy (to my understanding, the only one not created in Spain), with some rather radical departures from what has been considered the standard iconography and layout, bringing it possibly closer to Beatus’ original design. You can flip through the new Beatus here. I’d suggest changing the view to thumbnail, and then skipping to about 152r, unless Beneventan script is your thing. (It’s MeFi, it could be. Nothing surprises me about this place anymore.)

For comparison, take a look at the paintings from some of the previously known manuscripts: The Four Horsemen from the Facundus Beatus of 1047, from the Valladolid Beatus of 970, the Silos of 1091 (slightly different, still pretty similar), the Saint-Sever (1072) and then the Geneva. Note the lack of background for the figures or border, as well as the placement of the figures on a text page.

Or the Woman Clothed in the Sun: The Las Huelgas is later than most of the others (1220), but still maintains the basic structure, as does the Silos, the Gerona of 975, the Facundus of 1047 and then the different treatment in the new Geneva.

Want more Beatus? There’s the full Silos of 1100 here (drop down on the right controls folio) or here, and an article by John Williams, one of the leading scholars on the topic, here, with illustrations from the 1047 Facundus (more images from the Facundus). Images from the 1175 Rylands Beatus are here and more from the Rylands from Metafilter’s Own peacay. Here's the surviving Beatus manuscript with the latest creation date, the Las Huelgas Apocalypse (be sure to click on the 'about this page' for details on each illumination)

There’s a lovely chapter on the history of the Beatus with illustrations from several manuscripts in Titus Burckhardt’s The Foundations of Christian Art.

And if you’re snowed in and want to spend the rest of the day immersing yourself in Medieval Spanish fabulousness, let me direct you to the catalog for an exhibit that never was: “The Art of Medieval Spain: AD 500 – 1200.” The exhibit was planned in the mid-90s, postponed and eventually never held.
posted by korej (6 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Just flipping through the Genevan Beatus is awesome. It's amazing and delightful to me how much technology lets people do and see where historical manuscripts are concerned.

I look forward to exploring the rest of the links.
posted by immlass at 4:48 PM on February 9, 2014

Nobody expects the Geneva Beatus!
posted by uosuaq at 4:51 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I’d suggest changing the view to thumbnail, and then skipping to about 152r, unless Beneventan script is your thing. (It’s MeFi, it could be. Nothing surprises me about this place anymore.)

Actually, as someone who has studied (for fun and profit) the history of book making — both design and editorial aspects — there are interesting things to look at here besides the illustrations. Link saved for future browsing.
posted by D.C. at 7:48 PM on February 9, 2014

St. Iohannes, St. Pávlos, St. Geōrgios, & St. Anulus . . .

Meet the Beatus!
posted by Herodios at 8:10 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here are some cool facts about Beneventan script:

1. It preserves elements of the Roman cursive script used in classical or post-classical Rome. Thanks to Beneventan script, these features of Roman handwriting survive for centuries after the fall of the Roman empire itself.

2. It includes elements of phonetic notation, to help the reader when reading aloud. For example, it's the only script that distinguishes between soft 'ti' (as in 'tertio') and hard 'ti' (as in 'gratis'). It's the LaserDisc of medieval handwriting, a superior technology that died out because it never became mainstream.

3. We have Beneventan scribes to thank for the survival of Tacitus's Histories and Books 11-16 of the Annals, which only exist today in a single manuscript (known as 'M2') written in Beneventan script.

4. The Renaissance humanists who rediscovered Beneventan script thought it must be 'barbarian' because it looked so strange. They didn't realise it was actually descended from classical handwriting, whereas the Carolingian minuscule that they thought was authentically classical had actually been developed in the 8th century.

5. The standard history of Beneventan script is E.A. Loew's The Beneventan Script: A History of the South Italian Minuscule (1914). The preface to Loew's book is dated February 10 1914, so today marks the centenary of its completion.
posted by verstegan at 3:20 PM on February 10, 2014

And talking of the Beatus .. if you've read The Name of the Rose, you'll have encountered the Beatus, even though you may not have realised it. It's the unnamed manuscript, discovered by Adso in the library, that causes him to be overwhelmed by fleshly lusts. Caveat lector!

I opened another book, and this seemed of the Hispanic school. The colours were violent, the reds suggested blood or fire. It was the book of Revelation of the apostle, and once again, as the night before, I happened upon the page of the mulier amicta sole. But it was not the same book; the illumination was different. Here the artist had dwelled at greater length on the woman's form. I compared her face, her bosom, her curving thighs with the statue of the Virgin I had seen with Ubertino. The line was different, but this mulier also seemed very beautiful to me. I thought I should not dwell on these notions, and I turned several more pages. I found another woman, but this time it was the whore of Babylon. I was not so much struck by her form as by the thought that she, too, was a woman like the other, and yet this one was the vessel of every vice, whereas the other was the receptacle of every virtue. But the forms were womanly in both cases, and at a certain point I could no longer understand what distinguished them. Again I felt an inner agitation; the image of the Virgin in the church became superimposed on that of the beautiful Margaret. "I am damned!" I said to myself. Or, "I am mad." And I decided I should leave the library.
posted by verstegan at 3:44 PM on February 10, 2014

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