Silos Beatus

Silos Beatus f. 235r, The fifth vision: Baltasar’s feast


f. 235r, The fifth vision: Baltasar’s feast

King Baltasar, the son of Nabucodonosor, holds a godless banquet with one thousand of his princes. Once drunk, he orders wine to be served to him in the chalices of the temple of Jerusalem, seized as loot by his father. At this point the fingers of a hand appear and begin to write three mysterious words upon the wall: Mane, Thecel, Phares. The wise men summoned to explain them are unable to do so. The queen requests the presence of Daniel – the prophet supposed to have outlived too many kingdoms. In addition to reprimanding the king severely, he explains the meaning of the three words written inside voussoirs in Escalada (f. 255v), Valcavado (f. 204r), Girona (f. 253v) and Tábara (f. 143r). They predict the fall of the king. The banquet, held around a circular table with the guests reclining in Roman style, is depicted beneath a large horseshoe arch: a poor imitation of the caliphal arches in the mosque at Cordova whose voussoirs feature quarters in alternating pale and dark colours. Two concepts related to the pagan Roman and Islamic cultures have been associated within a negative concept. Particular emphasis has been laid on the wine of desecration shown in the foreground in a flask being carried by a servant. Magius’ creation, with its markedly symmetrical layout of the banquet, has been adopted by the other codices except the Obeco Beatus in which the scene is depicted beneath a double arch. The two-colour voussoirs are absent from the Urgell (f. 207r), Ferdinand I (f. 281v) and Silos Beatus – presumably an indication of a different source possibly derived from an earlier prototype featuring a round arch but not the voussoirs in alternating colours. This detail could be borne out by the fact that the last two codices were made in 1047 and 1090-1109 respectively. The legends accompanying the passages of the commentary can still be seen. Crowned and reclining upon a sort of triclinium, King Baltasar presides over the feast. The legend on the left refers to him: baltasar / in conuibium / cum obtimatib[us] / suis. This scene is undoubtedly based upon ancient models. The two figures facing him in an identical posture and the two rows of eight human heads around the table constitute a semicircle that completes the layout. The table is viewed from two angles, from above with fifteen goblets all depicted as tiny circles, and from the side with a cup-like structure. The servant – unusually identified by the word pincerna in this Beatus – holds a flask in his left hand and toasts the king with the wine of desecration held in his right hand in a similarly-shaped, albeit smaller flask. Daniel’s prophecy is depicted within the span of the large arch (daniel contra / scripturam / respiciens), i.e. he rebukes the king for the desecration and explains the meaning of the words written vertically and downwards: mane means that God has brought his kingdom to an end; thecel, that his weight has not tipped the scales enough; and phares, that the kingdom has been divided and handed over the Medes and Persians. Although Baltasar renders tribute to him, the enemies entered the city that very night and put him to the sword. The mysterious words were written by a hand (articulos / scribentis / pari/ete) holding the candelabra (candelabru[m]) with flames emerging from the top. The dainty, little, decorative tree with a flowerlike crown depicted on the right in the Ferdinand I Beatus has been relocated here to beneath the keystone of the arch. The miniature respects the layout of the commentary on the Book of Daniel, i.e. it has no frame and pastel tones prevail apart from the dark colours on the king’s garb and the shafts of the columns. The decoration features the highly stylised, foliate motifs characteristic of the codex.

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