As the title suggests, the Commentaria is a reflection on the Book of Revelation. It was copied and illustrated in manuscript form in works called “Beati” during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Beatus codices are fine examples of Mozarabic art—that is, art of the Mozarabs (from musta’rab meaning “Arabised”). According to Wikipedia:
The Mozarabs were Iberian Christians living in Al-Andalus, the Muslim conquered territories in the period that comprises from the Arab invasion of the Iberian Peninsula (711) to the end of the 11th century, adopted some Arab customs without converting to Islam, preserving their religion and some ecclesiastical and judicial autonomy.
A good explanation for the illustrated manuscripts is provided in the book A Companion to the Premodern Apocalypse edited by Michael A. Ryan (Associate Professor of medieval and early modern history at the University of New Mexico). In an essay titled “The Western Apocalypse Commentary Tradition of the Early Middle Ages”, Kevin Poole, formerly assistant professor of Spanish and Medieval Studies at Yale University and now Associate Professor of Humanities at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, writes:
Following Augustine’s teaching of the three levels of spiritual understanding – visio corporealis, visio spiritualis, and visio intellectualis – the illustrated Beatus commentary provides a tool for contemplation, not just reading, of the revelatory text…For the monks who read the Beatus commentaries, contemplation involved the active development of the cognition of truth, the end goal being the beatific vision of God. They read scriptures, memorized the words of the Fathers, and formulated mental images of those words in order to reach the level of spiritual intellect – visio intellectualis – at which they understood the reason for their existence, the fullness of Glory in Paradise. We must remember that, for the medieval monk and preacher, the church and its monasteries represent Heaven on earth. The illustrated Beatus commentary, more than a book of prophecy or of anti-heretical teachings, represents visually for the reader that otium quietis that will come after Judgement and toward which all of the faithful strive.
…the Apocalypse commentary tradition from the beginning years of Christianity to the end of the Early Middle Ages evolved not only as a literary genre but also as a political and religious voice against the opponents of orthodoxy…As a political, doctrinal, and spiritual text, the Apocalypse commentary stood ready to face the year 1000, the political and religious turmoil that would take place in the middle years of the 11th century, and crusading efforts intent on establishing a new Jerusalem in the centuries following 1095 [1095 is the year when the First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II].
Cosmopolitan soul and King's College London + National Gallery alum (Twitter: @TulikaBahadur89) - slowly working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Say hi at email@example.com, send all professional communication, including enquiries related to art buying, to firstname.lastname@example.org. View all posts by Tulika Bahadur