The Commentary on the Apocalypse, written by eighth-century monk Beatus of Liébana, has maintained its status as one of the most important medieval manuscripts for centuries. Almost immediately after creation, copies of the work appeared in abbeys across Spain, the oldest of which is the sole fragment of a ninth-century copy from the Abbey of Santo-Domingo de Silos. The commentary peaked in popularity in Spain during the tenth century; several extant manuscripts, in varying degrees of completeness, were created in ecclesiastical institutions throughout the country. By the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the commentary had spread outside Spain, mainly into neighboring Portugal and France. Although the mid- and late Middle Ages looked to other sources for apocalyptic commentary, the manuscripts did not completely disappear. Approximately thirty copies survive, inspiring a wealth of study from modern academia in all fields. The scholarship cited in this project will look at scholarly studies addressing the commentary’s text, the commentary’s decorative program, and finally the close relationship between both. Ultimately, the text and the image of Beatus’ commentary cannot be separated, as the reader utilizes both to fully interpret the complex messages.
The commentary consists of compiled writings from several Fathers and Doctors of the Church, along with multiple prologues and exegetical writings of varying length, written by Beatus himself. Unfortunately, no copy of the manuscript surviving today remains in its complete, original form.
Although the work is valued for its text, the program of images has perhaps drawn the most attention. The manuscript illuminations emerge as some of the most important from the early medieval period, retaining remarkable consistency of style between the numerous copies. Because the very first manuscript produced directly from Beatus’ writings no longer exists, the original illuminations are unknown. However, scholars have inferred from the consistent Mozarabic style seen in the several tenth-century copies that the first painted images almost certainly displayed the same appearance.
In “Introduction: The Apocalypse in Medieval Art,” Peter K. Klein examines the manuscript series as a whole, focusing on the text and illuminations in relationship to their historical context. The style of the writing and the imagery remained relevant to the early medieval life, but as new exegetical literature emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and as the Gothic style spread throughout the European continent, the manuscripts disappeared from the ecclesiastical world. Klein’s introductory essay offers a simple exploration of how the Beatus text and images functioned as a singular unit. He provides much of the basic context and chronology authors utilize in their much more in-depth and specific studies on the Beatus manuscript group.
The Beatus Text
Early studies of the Beatus commentary focused on identifying fragments and creating a chronology that represented their production. While several copies have been known to scholars for several decades, the discovery of previously unknown copies or fragments stimulated lively discussion centered on identification and dating. Whitehill’s article presents an early publication of this process, specifically centered on the Silos fragment, now recognized as the oldest surviving example of Beatus’ text. Whitehill employed a number of methods to study the folio, including paleography and formal analysis of the illuminated images. Additionally, he worked in conjunction with outside scholars belonging to different academic fields, demonstrating the interdisciplinary nature of manuscript study. The study of the language and grammar in the manuscript text especially contributed to his aim of identifying a production date. In conclusion, he suggested a date considered now to be too late for the manuscript’s production, but his article provides a valuable look into early study of Beatus’ commentary and establishes the basic method still used by modern scholars.
Steinhauser and Eco, presenting much more recent studies, can turn their attention away from issues of identification and dating to more nuanced interpretations of the text in its historical context. Steinhauser looks at the well-known adoptionist controversy between Beatus and Elipandus of Toledo. It is already known that Beatus and Elipandus did not theologically agree on the position of Christ in relation to God, but Steinhauser uses this established knowledge and applies its implications to the three separate revisions the manuscript underwent before reaching its final form. The author concludes the commentary’s third edition most greatly reflects Beatus’ attitude towards Elipandus and his supposedly heretical beliefs. Likewise, Eco draws on context to examine the manuscript’s text. However, he mainly considers theological context instead of historical and political context, especially focusing on the language found in the book of Revelation, the literary work towards which Beatus directed his commentary. As an extremely complex and nonlinear work, the final book of the bible presents difficulties in interpretation. According to Eco, Beatus was unsuccessful in decoding the crisscrossing nature of Revelation’s narrative, and, as a result, his commentary is filled with contradictions. However, this does not necessarily create problems when considered in accordance with the early medieval period during which the commentary was produced. Like Steinhauser, Eco introduces historical context as a key element in interpreting the manuscript. The chaotic world of the early Middle Ages naturally was filled with contradictions and instability, creating an apocalyptic environment in which citizens constantly meditated on the end of the world and the coming of Christ. Therefore, the contradictions in Beatus’ commentary did not detract from his message. The inconsistencies found parallels in contemporary events that supposedly marked the apocalyptic downfall of mankind.
The Beatus Illuminations
The illuminations of the Beatus manuscripts are some of the most studies images of the medieval period. Scholars have discussed a countless number of issues drawing from every conceivable topic. The scholarship discussed in the following portion of the project will reflect this huge diversity, but will also demonstrate the interconnected nature of Beatus scholarship. The academic articles and essays present their own contributions, but simultaneously respond to the scholarly environment in which they are actively engaged.
Bolman and Maekawa’s essays center around the viewing experience medieval readers received when looking at the Beatus illuminations. Both authors stress that modern conceptions of viewing and interpreting an image largely differ from those of the Middle Ages; to investigate the functions of the illuminations without considering contemporaneous receptions would be to deny the most basic nature of the images. Bolman examines the role of color across several copies of the Beatus manuscript. The bright hues and jarring contrasts appear garish to modern viewers, but those in the medieval period understood the specific roles colors played in presenting the narrative of the scene. Although the colors of the represented objects and figures do not fall under the modern ideas of naturalism, they are, nonetheless, natural to the medieval viewer. They carried larger associations that signified the symbolic role of the represented object. Color also denoted degrees of good and evil, through scales of light and dark responding to textual connotations. For the modern viewer, the confusing mess of hues contributes little to visual interpretation. But for the medieval viewer, color in the Beatus manuscripts remained central to creating a complete illuminated image.
Similarly to Bolman, Maekawa investigates the medieval viewer’s interpretation of manuscript miniatures that initially appear unorganized and chronologically disjointed. The central targets of the author’s study, illuminations from the Pierpont Morgan Library Beatus, are arranged into three horizontal bands divided by colored borders. The depicted action on the miniatures draws from multiple moments in the book of Revelation, combining different temporal instances into a single image. Maekawa notes that the modern method of reading images is left to right, top to bottom, with the expectation that the events occur chronologically. However, those on the Morgan Beatus illuminations do not follow this pattern. Maekawa looks at medieval viewing practices to suggest the banded composition does not indicate chronological order, but instead indicates spatial location in which the narrative action plays out. For the medieval viewer, the separations would have clearly represented heaven, the earth, and hell, and chronological accuracy was not required to present an interpretable illumination. Bolman and Maekawa focus on differing topics, however, they both demonstrate the anachronism of attempting to read the Beatus manuscripts through the modern mindset.
Mentré expands on this theme in presented by Bolman and Maekawa to discover the monastic use of the Beatus manuscripts, especially related to contemplation and meditation. Like Bolman, Mentré determines the intense coloration of the illuminated images held a larger role in the overall visual program, apart from decorating the represented forms. The glaring hues assisted monks in reaching the highest state of transcendence in order to witness visions of the apocalypse and the coming of Christ. To the modern viewer, the idea of visions stimulated by physical representations can be difficult to grasp. Yet, Mentré stresses the medieval viewer, specifically the monk, would have understood the wider connotations and roles of color. For all three authors, context and contemporaneous viewer understanding reveals more valuable information than interpretations based on modern conceptions.
The following authors follow a separate path of study than the first three discussed. Historical context and cultural exchange become the center of study on the Beatus manuscripts. According to this approach, the illuminators drew from their knowledge and experiences of the medieval world to create the visual program of the manuscript group. Influence could be drawn from almost any source. The essays included in this portion of the project focus on artistic influence from abroad and on cultural perceptions of eastern non-Christians.
Lawson and Wixom look at the Cardeña Beatus, which was produced much later than the typical corpus of Beatus manuscripts. The authors examine the sources for certain visual motifs in the work, including the depiction of a horseshoe arch arcade, a large gold-leaf cross decorated with alpha and omega, and an image of the Three Magi. In each instance, the inspiration came from abroad, originating at churches and cathedrals in Spain, France, and England, respectively. The wide geographical range of source material demonstrates the increasingly international world of the Middle Ages, from which artists could access countless modes of representation to convey their messages with more nuanced approaches.
Outside sources for figures in the illuminations, especially evil figures, often originated in the eastern or Islamic world. For the Christians, the distant people represented the “other”, the unknown, foreign groups countering the rightful Christian ways of life. Werckmeister and Wright present two separate articles that describe visual manifestations of the dangers posed by the presence of the eastern and the Islamic. Werckmeister directs his attention to the Islamic rider in the Girona Beatus, found in conjunction with monstrous animals and beasts. According to the author’s interpretation based on the Christian and Islamic relationship in Spain, the figure represents the persecutors of the Christian faith, attacking and killing followers of Christ. In turn, the image takes on connotations of martyrdom. The animal figures alongside the rider become the Christian faithful, standing strong in the face of persecution by the Islamic religion. Wright looks at appearances of the Antichrist in the Beatus manuscripts with much the same approach as Werckmeister. The figure is marked as distinctly different by the foreign and apparently “eastern” design of his headdress. In illuminations depicting the death of the two martyrs and the attack on Jerusalem, described in Revelation, the easily identified Antichrist leads the attackers against the faithful. The figure may be equated with Nebuchadnezzar, but Wright reads him as a type, representing the eastern, and therefore foreign, forces threatening Christian medieval Europe. In both instances, the authors interpret images based on the historical and political environment that surely affected the Beatus illuminators.
Klein’s article “The Whore of Babylon in the Beatus Codex of Lorvão” offers a different approach to studying the manuscripts in conjunction with artistic context. The figure of the Whore appears multiple times throughout the work, illustrated by at least two different illuminators. Klein’s evaluation of the success of associated iconography determines one of the artists showed more skill when copying and reinterpreting models for the appearance of the Whore. While statements on the skills of illuminators is not always valuable to in-depth study, Klein’s assessments indicate the artistic environment of the period, in which artists of every ability worked separate or, as is the case with the Lorvão manuscript, worked together to produce commissions. Although the conclusions of all four authors vary, their methods support each other to create a broad, yet detailed, view of the medieval context of the Beatus manuscripts.
The Beatus Combination of Text and Illumination
The previous two sections present scholarship that examines the Beatus text and illuminations as separate entities. The close conjunction of text and imagery in the manuscripts, however, highly encourages studies that encompass both fields in order to discern more complete interpretations. The following authors address topics ranging from broad explorations into the role of images with text to narrow investigations into the function of certain illustrations derived from earlier textual descriptions.
The following entry in Williams’ book The Illuminated Beatus seeks to understand the functions of the apocalyptic imagery in relationship to the apocalyptic text. Williams states that on the surface, the illuminations reinforce the themes of the text by repeating the stories and visions that inspired Beatus’ commentary. However, the images also hold functions independent of the text, stimulating contemplation and inspiring transformational thought through their purely visual medium. Williams applies his conclusions to the Beatus manuscript group as a whole, but cautions against assigning a specific Beatus style to a group that displays such varying approaches to visually depicting the same text.
While Williams’ essay approaches the relationship between text and image on a very broad scale, Wittkower’s article addresses a single motif in five of the Beatus manuscripts produced in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The author examines previous textual and visual descriptions of the image, combining both sources into a cross-media conclusion that demonstrates the importance of recognizing connections between text and image. Inserted at the end of the genealogy of Christ, the specific motif depicts the struggle between a bird and a serpent, which was likely inspired by stories in the Physiologus. According to Wittkower, the textual account of the fight originated in India and was brought to Europe during the ninth and tenth centuries, after Beatus wrote his commentaries. Wittkower determines, therefore, the textual and the visual descriptions of the conflict between the bird and the serpent were later additions to the commentary, made under Mozarab influence. The narrow focus of the essay allows the author to track the path of the visual motif from India to Europe, but also emphasizes the equally influential roles of text and image in the dissemination of culturally based illustrations.
William’s second essay included in this project applies Wittkower’s approach to more prominent illustrations in the Beatus manuscripts, specifically the medieval world map that stands as one of the first of its kind. Textual models for the appearance of the map derive from the writings of Tyconius, Orosius, and Isidore of Seville; Williams states that visual models probably did not exist or were inaccessible to Beatus during the time of his commentary’s creation. Scholarship has traditionally assumed a copy of the map from 1086 demonstrates the closest appearance of the nonexistent original, but Williams arrives at a different conclusion. Based on his examination of both text and image, he suggests the Morgan Beatus of 940 more likely represents the original form of the map. Williams demonstrates the effect multi-media approaches have on studies of the Beatus manuscripts. Examining text and image together can produce wide-reaching conclusions that alter the way scholarship views an entire manuscript group. Or it can uncover smaller, but equally stimulating, conclusions on the adaption and transformation of specific visual motifs. The scholarly essays presented in this project, including those designated as textual or visual investigations, ultimately contribute to the simultaneous study of both. The Beatus copies are exceptional examples of manuscripts composed around the relationship of written words and illuminations, which cannot be separated and still retain their original meaning. The commentary can only present its complete analysis of the book of Revelation through the mutually beneficial combination of text and image.
Bolman, Elizabeth, S. “De coloribus: The Meanings of Color in Beatus Manuscripts.” Gesta 38, no. 1 (1999): 22-34.
Bolman analyzes patterns of color in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-century Beatus manuscripts to determine the medieval viewer’s response to the seemingly unnatural hues of the illuminations. To the modern viewer, the colors create an unorganized conglomeration. Yet, Bolman identifies specific patterns and functions based not only on hue, but also on degrees of lightness and darkness. Colors carried symbolic meanings based on context and could convey ideas of good and evil that depended on visual and textual associations. Contrary to initial observations, colors also carried associations with the natural world in order to reference symbolic meanings medieval viewers would relate to the depicted object. Ultimately, the colors served to mnemonically link the Beatus text and images, and to provide access to the larger symbolic connotations of the illuminations.
Eco, Umberto. “Waiting for the Millenium.” In The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050, edited by Andrew Gow, Richard Landes, and David C. Van Meter, 121-135. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
“Waiting for the Millenium” is based off a lecture Eco gave to remark on the confusing and contradictory nature of Beatus’ commentary. Eco suggests that in the attempt to account for the whole of eschatological tradition, Beatus presented a crisscrossing web of apocalypticism, filled with contradictory statements, which is unsurprising in the chaotic and dangerous world of the early Middle Ages. Revelation presents countless modes of interpretation and Beatus adopted those most fitting to his historical era. In addition to the words themselves, the literary structure of Revelation encourages web-like interpretations. The non-linear description of events moves back and forth in time in a cycle of constant recapitulation. According to Eco, Beatus attempted to follow Revelation’s web, but got lost in the complicated narrative.
Klein, Peter K. “Introduction: The Apocalypse in Medieval Art.” In The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages, edited by Richard Kenneth Emmerson and Bernard McGinn, 217-233. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
Klein’s entry on the Beatus manuscript series places the manuscripts within the monastic environment and suggests the extensive program of illuminations likely were intended to function as mnemonic aids for personal contemplation. Although the original work from Beatus’ period is no longer extant, the earliest editions, with fairly limited iconography, may reflect the first manuscript produced in the eighth century. Significant transformation and expansion of text-related imagery in the tenth century enhanced the manuscript’s popularity, though its range of influence largely remained within Spain, with scattered copies produced in France and England. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the impact of the manuscript text waned due to Beatus’ outdated exegesis; the impact of the vast program of illuminations, however, continued to serve as important models until the Gothic emerged as the dominant style throughout large portions of Europe. According to Klein, the abstract and schematic characteristics of the Beatus manuscript illuminations could not reconcile with the increased “accuracy of Gothic representation, leading to the disappearance of the manuscripts’ textual and stylistic traditions.
Klein, Peter K. “The Whore of Babylon in the Beatus Codex of Lorvao.” In Tout le temps du veneour est sanz oyseusete: melanges offerts a Yves Christe pour son 65eme anniversaire, par ses amis, ses collegues, ses eleves, edited by Christine Hediger, 103-111. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005.
Klein discusses the Lorvao Beatus, completed in 1189, and the appearance of the Whore of Babylon within the manuscript. According to Klein, this specific copy of the Beatus text has received little scholarly attention despite its stance as one of the earliest manuscripts produced in the Kingdom of Portugal. The author argues the figure of the Whore, which appears in three separate miniatures, demonstrates, not only, the position of the Lorvao work within the wider context of Beatus manuscripts, but also the different artistic capacities of the two illuminators who decorated the codex. The artist Kleins dubs as the “less-gifted” of the two produced the image of the Whore on the Seven-Headed Beast, skewing the traditional iconography to present a confusing assemblage of motifs. The “more-gifted” artist produced the miniature depicting the Woman on the Beast. Producing a traditionally accurate, yet creatively new image, the second artist adapted conventional iconographic schemes to construct an innovative illumination that simultaneously remained within the viewer’s capacity to interpret.
Lawson, Margaret and William D. Wixom. “Picturing the Apocalypse: Illustrated Leaves from a Medieval Spanish Manuscript.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 59, no. 3 (2002): 1, 3-56.
Lawson and Wixom specifically address the Cardeña Beatus, produced 1175-1180 in the Spanish monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña. As a later copy of the commentary, the manuscript’s illuminated program displays a different style than earlier Mozarabic copies, approaching Gothic forms, yet still indebted to the earliest Beatus illuminations. According to Lawson and Wixom, certain architectural images in the Cardeña manuscript draw from actual built structures. For example, the horseshoe arches in the church of San Miguel de Escalada may have served as models for a folio illuminated with a sole image of an arcade. Additionally, the gold-leaf cross topping a depiction of the Lamb and two angels draws inspiration from the main cross of the French Carolingian monastery of Saint Martin at Tours. Lawson and Wixom even identify that the illumination depicting the Three Magi recalls the image of Saint Paul in Saint Anselm’s Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral. The manuscript’s visual connection to multiple European countries and styles demonstrates the increasingly international exchange and combination of artistic styles during the twelfth century.
Maekawa, Kumiko. Narrative and Experience: Innovations in Thirteenth-Century Picture Books. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2000.
Maekawa discusses the complicated temporal relationships between different scenes included in illuminated folios of the Morgan Beatus. Although the miniature is horizontally divided by decorative bands to suggest viewing left to right, top to bottom, the depicted actions do not follow the chronological order laid out in Revelation. If the readers aimed to view them as such, their eyes would need to follow an irregular pattern moving from scene to scene in an unorganized fashion. As a result, Maekawa concludes illuminations in the Morgan Beatus follow metaphorical arrangements, instead of temporal arrangements. The horizontally banded composition of several of the miniatures likely indicates symbolic positions in heaven, on earth, or in hell; the illuminators used colors, instead of naturalistic representation, to denote the varying levels of existence. Chronological accuracy, however, is not required. The Beatus illuminations effectively convey divinity and transcendence without adhering to narrative order.
Mentré, Mireille. Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Spain. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Mentré’s entry entitled “Painting and Contemplation” suggests the bright, unnatural colors of Mozarabic manscripts, such as Beatus manuscripts, function as transcendent aides, removing associations with the physical world to encourage higher contemplation of the divine mysteries. As the targeted audience for the Beatus manuscripts, monks were expected to meditate beyond the corporeal. Mentré states the violently contrasting hues upset natural human perception and opened thought to vision of the supernatural and the divine. Apocalyptic illuminations in the Beatus manuscripts especially benefitted from this separation. Already arranged with discontinuous chronology, the images’ unnatural colors further removed any connections to the physical world, in a sense reinforcing instability as the pathway to the ultimate state of transcendent contemplation.
Steinhauser, Kenneth B. “ Narrative and Illumination in the Beatus Apocalypse.” The Catholic Historical Review, 81, no. 2 (1995): 185-210.
Steinhauser considers the relationship between the Beatus text and the Beatus illuminations in the three successive editions produced in 776, 784, and 786. Each revision produced its own specific set of images corresponding to the specific set of aims in the writing. Although some similarities carried over between editions, significant changes can be identifies, especially between the first and third revisions. One year before the final modifications, Beatus penned his harsh criticisms of adoptionism, championed by Elipandus of Toledo. The commentary’s third edition exhibits many of Beatus’ negative opinions towards the alternative theology. Steinhauser reads the text and the illuminations of this final work as a synthesis of the first edition and the Adversus Elipandum, which laid out all of Beatus’ problems with adoptionism. The general content of the commentary remained the same from edition to edition, but its final form presented underlying connotations that transformed the work from pure theological commentary to political criticism.
Werckmeister, O. K. “The Islamic Rider in the Beatus of Girona.” Gesta 36, no. 2 (1997): 101-106.
Werckmeister examines the relationship between Christians and Muslims in early medieval Spain through the image of an Islmaic rider seen in two pictorial cycles. The figure appears in images associated with the birth and death of Christ, and in marginal depictions of monstrous animals. Both of these associations invoke imagery of Christian martyrdom in the face of the foreign non-Christian. In one specific scene, the Islamic rider confronts an upright serpent, stabbing the beast with his spear, but not appearing to inflict damage. As the embodiment of the steadfast Christian, the serpent represents resistance to integration into Islamic culture making its way into Spain. The rider, then, represents the Christian persecutors and is often equated with the most traditional persecutor, Herod. As a group, the serpent and rider personify the Christian resistance to the invading forces of Islam.
Whitehill, Jr., Walter. “A Beatus Fragment at Santo Domingo de Silos.” Speculum 4, no. 1 (1929): 102-105.
Whitehill’s article is one of the first published descriptions of the Beatus fragment now recognized as the earliest surviving copy of the popular text, dated to the ninth century. The folio contains the closing sentences of Beatus’ remarks on the Four Horsemen, along with a miniature of the martyrs under the altar. The miniature follows the traditional pictorial program seen in manuscripts of the same group, though Whitehill claims the depictions was clumsily completed by a lesser artist. Paleographic study contributed little to assigning a precise date to the fragment. Textual markers that usually signify the general date of a manuscript’s production are used sporadically in the fragment, complicating the traditional methods of dating. However, Whitehill identifies the iconographic style as belonging to an early, tenth century group of Beatus copies. Future scholarship has shown he was correct in assigning the fragment to this group, but the manuscript’s date is approximately a century earlier than his conclusion.
Williams, John. “Isidore, Orosius, and the Beatus Map.” Imago Mundi 49 (1997): 7-32.
The Beatus map illumination holds an important place in the history of medieval cartography. Williams examines the sources for this influential image, identifying models from the same authors Beatus included in his commentary text. The work of Tyconius and Orosius provided basic models, while Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae supplied additional features such as the interior ocean separating the fourth continent and the three parts of the ecumene. Williams also offers an alternative interpretation of this fourth continent, presenting it as the southern reaches of the inhabited world. Traditionally, the map of the Burgo de Osma Beatus manuscript (1086) is seen as the closest to the non-existent original depiction. However, Williams concludes, based on his analysis of precedents and sources, the Morgan Beatus (c. 940) provides the most accurate representation of the original.
Williams, John. The Illustrated Beatus. London: Harvey Miller, 1994.
In the excerpt “The Uses of Imagery,” Williams attempts to identify the role of the illuminations in relationship to the apocalyptic text. The dominant issue when discussing the Beatus illustrations is the unclear function of the images in the context of the commentary. On the most basic level, they worked as pictorial summaries of the text, restating the main points or even taking the place of the written word. On a deeper level, the illuminations stood as separate entities stimulating meditation on their exegetical functions. Yet, Williams stresses that a specific Beatus style should not be identified. While the text remained largely consistent between copies produced in different areas and different periods, the illuminated program underwent great variation. Because the original work no longer exists, distinguishing a Beatus style from stylistically disparate copies would be extremely difficult or impossible, and contribute little to general scholarship.
Wittkower, Rudolph. “’Physiologus’ in Beatus Manuscripts.” Journal of the Warburg Institute 1, no. 3 (1938): 253-254.
Wittkower’s short article investigates the appearance of the motif depicting a bird fighting a snake, which appears at the end of the genealogy of Christ in five of the extant manuscripts produced during the tenth and eleventh centuries. The corresponding text describes the conflict between Christ and a bird from an oriental country, as they both arm themselves for the fight, with Christ ultimately triumphing over the animal. Wittkower suggests the illumination derives from text in the Physiologus, an ancient collection of Christianized animal stories. The Christian story, in turn, likely originated from an Indian legend that describes a heavenly bird battling snakes. Eastern stories originating from India did not arrive in France and Spain until the ninth or tenth centuries, after Beatus first authored his commentary. Therefore, the presence of the foreign narrative and corresponding image indicates the illumination was added after corresponding manuscripts were produced under Mozarabic influence. The bird and serpent pair are likely the first visual manifestations of the Physiologus in Europe, revealing the stories’ migratory path into the western medieval world.
Wright, Rosemary Muir. Art and Antichrist in Medieval Europe. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.
Wright discusses the appearance of the Antichrist in the Beatus manuscripts as a militant king and false prophet, whose visual depictions derive from Jerome’s commentary on the book of Daniel and from the nature of the political environment in which the works were produced. Although the Antichrist is not directly referenced in Revelation, iconography of the figure had developed by the tenth century. Contemporary viewers identified images of the Antichrist within the Beatus manuscript group by the “othering” appearance of his headdress, often forming connotations with “evil” eastern figures, such as Nebuchadnezzar. Depictions of the ancient king, also within the Beatus manuscript group, often place a foreign headdress atop the figure to symbolize his separation from the Christian world. But, Wright stresses the Antichrist in the Beatus manuscripts does not represent a singular, historical figure. Instead, he embodies an evil type that can be manipulated and interpreted depending on historical context.