Folios 55v-56 The great harlot (Rev. 17: 3b-6)
The angel led John into the desert to show him “the famous harlot sitting on the shores of the great waters”. The apostle is once again in his writer’s pose (f. 55v) whilst the angel with unfurled wings and arms open wide holds out the blank phylactery symbolising his message in one hand and points at the vision in the upper register on the facing page with the other. The Beast with seven heads and ten horns floats like a ship upon the green waters of the river representing the host of sinners. The beast carries the ignominious queen, sitting on its back as if upon a royal throne. Several little devils bustle around the woman. One devil, on the left, arranges her loose, ermine-lined cloak hanging down in heavy folds as far as the monster’s neck, whilst a second devil, on the right, arranges her veil and holds the legend describing her, Babylon. Mother. Of. Fornic[ation]. Two other demons, caricatures of minstrels, play some infernal music: one with a whistle and drum whilst the other scrapes a bow across an ass’s jawbone used as a stringed instrument. With an enigmatic smile undoubtedly conveying what the commentator calls her “false honesty”, Babylon clasps the golden, goblet full of abominations to her chest. “Symbol of the assembly of the evil, forgetful of God and his justice, she is drunk with the saints’ blood she has spilt”. The lower register on this page is devoted to this reference to the martyrs. Brandishing a spear, several swords and a scimitar, four soldiers run through, set about and behead Christ’s faithful. The executioner cutting a naked child in two in the middle of the composition was probably borrowed from a scene of the Slaughter of the Innocents. The grimacing face of one of the persecutors and the bear’s head emblem on another persecutor’s shoulder plates emphasise the negative nature of these characters implementing an evil will.
Marie-Thérèse Gousset and Marianne Besseyre
Centre de Recherche sur les Manuscrits Enluminés, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the commentary volume of The Apocalypse of 1313