Girona Beatus

Girona Beatus f. 19r, Preliminaries: the alpha, the Maiestas Domini and the portraits of the authors


f. 19r, Preliminaries: the alpha, the Maiestas Domini and the portraits of the authors

This full-page painting at the top of the main text combines three elements usually shown separate: the portrait of the author, the letter alpha and the Maiestas Domini. The figures at the top represent the collective portrait of the authors whose works were used by Beatus of Liébana as sources when writing his Commentary on the Apocalypse. All of them are shown beardless, with nimbi, to indicate their importance, in front of lecterns with their books resting upon them, grouped in simple or double pairs apparently in conversation. Each one is identified by a legend overhead: “leandro”, “Ieronjmo”, “agustino”, “ambrosio”/”fulgentjo”, “gregorio”, “ambringio” and “isidoro”. As regards the large letter alpha, its most ancient models in illustrations from the kingdom of Castile and León are to be found in the work by Florentius the scribe on the Moralia in Iob by St Gregory the Great made in the year 945 (Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Cod. 80, f. 1v). Despite the nature of this work it begins and ends with this apocalyptic motif used so frequently by the illuminators in this area in their desire to emphasise and multiply the symbols of Christ triumphant and his eternal nature. The top and bottom ends of the alpha open out into large, complex, interwoven motifs as does the transversal line, a rather V-like shape of interwoven foliate motifs. The use of a large initial covering the entire page originated in Carolingian art, in the Franco-insular tradition to be precise, in which this type of page layout is common. In addition, the tiny, triple lines between semicircular shapes surrounding the outlines of the letter, are highly stylised designs, derived from kufic inscriptions, that became very commonplace in the tenth-century miniatures of León. One could however wonder whether the appearance of this letter was already envisaged in the original pictorial design of the Commentaries on the Apocalypse. Some authors believe that it was , even though it only features in the Saint-Sever Beatus (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. 8878, f. 14r) and the Osma Beatus (Burgo de Osma, Cathedral Archives, Cod. 1, f. 1r), the former belonging to the most recent branch of stemma I, but influenced by II, and the latter, classified amongst the earlier branch of stemma I. Other authors, on the other hand, believe that it belongs to the tenth-century manuscript illustration renovation, to which stemma II belongs, which subsequently influenced such codices. Florentius may have separated the alpha and omega from the old monogram on the Oviedo crosses and developed it as an additional Christological symbol, endowing it with a style influenced by the school of Tours. The first time the apocalyptic letters appeared in an extant Beatus was an omega in the Tábara codex (Madrid, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Cod. 1097B, f. 167r) although there must have been prototypes that have since gone missing, even including one by Florentius prior to his work on the Moralia dated 945, because the Morgan Beatus, dated c. 940 or 945 when the calligrapher from Valeranica was at his heyday, lacks these letters whereas the Gerona manuscript with its clearly French influence dated thirty years later still retains them. In physical terms, they mark the start of the book, but they also constitute an apocalyptic reference to God who is depicted in majesty in the Gerona Beatus flanked by the apocalyptic phrase “ego svm/A et O”. God is shown beardless, as was already usual in Carolingian art and was to be later in Beatus manuscripts, with a cruciform nimbus and a small circle in his right hand raised in blessing. He sits enthroned upon the transversal line of the letter with interwoven motifs extending downwards into a fine line that symmetrically separates two wading birds similar to those on folio 222r. They originated in the ones that decorate the alpha and omega in the Moralia, although it is also possible to mention the ones in the table of canons in the Bible of 920 (León, Cathedral Archive, Cod. 6, f. 155v) that hark back to the those depicted alongside the crux ansata at the end of a fourth- or fifth-century Coptic manuscript (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Glazier 67) which are far more similar to those in the Gerona manuscript. The capital alpha consists of three lines, endowing it with a Trinitarian meaning. Although this is the first time an alpha is found in an extant copy in combination with the representation of God, it is not the first time a significant figure appears in association with a large letter.

Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor
Doctor in History
(Fragment of the Girona Beatus commentary volume)

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