Folios 35v-36 A great battle in heaven (Rev. 12: 7-12a)
John (f. 35v) looks up from the scroll he is writing his message on to watch the terrible fight shaking the heavens (f. 36).
Upon the clouds in front of a golden sky symbolising timelessness, stands Michael, the prince of the heavenly armies, in the middle of the “great battle” he is waging against the forces of evil. Around his head is a narrow, gold nimbus indicating his rank. He plunges the tip of his huge cross spear unhesitatingly into one of the seven-headed Dragon’s mouths, casting it to the ground. The monster falls, dragging down a host of evil spirits resembling ugly, grimacing bats flapping in vain in the darkness of a midnight blue, carved ground. Next to the archangel are three angels assigned, like him, to safeguarding souls, according to the gloss, who react to the attack from an equal number of enemies. On the right, one of St Michael’s companions raises a short sword above one of Satan’s fiends catching it by a horn whilst the other threatens him with a hook. On the left, a black devil seizes the neck of the white tunic worn by an angel brandishing a long sword above it whilst the third angel wields a battle-axe to attack a demon carrying a huge bludgeon. The artist clearly highlights St Michael’s spear depicted diagonally across the composition, the impact of which denotes the irreversible victory of Good over the “Ancient Serpent”. The cross at the end of the weapon is orange-red in colour: the colour of fire but also of blood. The full meaning of this detail is revealed by the commentator who explains that the heavenly armies have overcome the Dragon not by their own strength or that of Michael, but thanks to the spilt blood of the Lamb, in other words, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
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