Silos Beatus

Silos Beatus f. 86r, Two jugglers, Petrus


f. 86r, Two jugglers, Petrus

It was M. Schapiro who drew attention to this unframed illustration which he identified with a musician and a dancer positioned in the space left blank at the end of the Storia quattuor animalia in Liber 3 (Rev. 4: 6). His valuable comments about the figures and their function have been reviewed recently by R. Álvarez and Williams, who determined, for different reasons, that they were related to the following illustration. According to the erudite researcher, the pairs of figures of this type to be found in Mozarabic Beatus codices prior to Silos did not act as initials or commentaries in the content of the manuscript. He declared that unlike the countless other marginalia in the codex, their content is utterly profane and possibly linked to the playful experience of everyday life. The researcher believes that this lively miniature brimming with movement and vitality was undoubtedly the product of the illustrator’s own imagination. He does however consider that these figures are – despite constituting an intrusion into the text – nevertheless inspired by it. They are in fact situated in a corner left blank after the storia of Christ enthroned, the tribute to the Ancients and the four living creatures, and furthermore, precede the full-page miniature of this vision of the Heavenly Court. These ideas have been contested with convincing reasons by said musicologist, as I will discuss later.

The two figures in short garments facing each other are shown in a three-quarter view. A noteworthy item of their garments is their leather footwear which rises up over conical boards – possibly a way of representing movement itself rather than the steps of a dance being performed. The figure on the left plays a totally imaginary strummed, string musical instrument, identified by the same author with a fiddle-lute. The lute is a four-stringed instrument of Arabian origin. An extra string was added by the great musician Ziryab, who also made several innovations to the plectrum. The other person, also shown in movement, holds a wading bird (probably a crane, and possibly an ardea cinerea) by the neck in his right hand and is about to kill it with a large curved knife. I disagree with the American scholar about the possible link to medieval texts – compiled by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Poesía juglaresca y juglares – and particularly the description in the Gran Conquista de Ultramar: “andaban juglares con muchas maneras de instrumentos de alegrías: los unos cantaban e los otros esgrimían con cuchillos e con espadas” (strolling jugglers with many styles of instruments of happiness: some singing and the others wielding knives and swords.) Nor does this explain the actual association or the skill of the jugglers in imitating birdsong which became part of the Romanesque drôleries found in the manuscript illustrations and also the architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, amongst other things, because although the person on the right is dancing, his pose is that of someone about to kill an animal – a detail not envisaged by said scholar. The juggler musician plays a lute with a long, North African neck, modified considerably to convert it into a fidula played with a bow. It was fashionable to use a bow to play the new instruments, but this re-creation of the stringed instrument was motivated by specific intentions related to the text. The instrument is played in the eastern style, held vertically, as can be seen in earlier, Hispanic manuscripts.
R. Álvarez does not agree with M. Schapiro, and nor do I, that this curious scene is completely unrelated to the text. As in the case of other illustrations, the content is announced in some way by some previous reference, as is undoubtedly the case here. The two dancers are situated in front of the Lamb and the four living creatures (f. 86v). The significance of the musicians in relation to sin is undoubtedly negative. Their fierce look, so far removed from the mild gaze of other figures, is symptomatic. This would justify the transformation of the lute, being a subliminal language that condemns the changes made by the jugglers to the instruments deemed by the medieval ecclesiastical class to be sacred. The juggler with a long, sharp knife also fits into this negative context. I am of the opinion that the suggested religious meaning of the heron is plausible: the heron, a symbol of the resurrection, presumably alludes to the Church being constantly renewed by the grace of Christ. In this case, the scene constitutes the condemnation of those carrying out reprehensible and sinful actions against Christ and his Church, as a result of music and dance – which were largely condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities of that period. The Church is the leading figure in the commentaries by Beatus, a hypothesis confirmed in fact by his commentary on Rev. 5: 6 which mentions the contemporary sufferings of the Church, undergone previously by Christ, and the fact that her detractors are the heirs of the assassins who “cut Christ’s throat in the person of his descendants”.

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