Flemish Apocalypse

Flemish Apocalypse f. 4r, The letters to the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea


f. 4r, The letters to the churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea

The messages to the remaining three churches are illustrated in this miniature. St John sits on a hill, with his left leg folded under him and his right leg  extended. A scroll lies on his knees and he transcribes what the dove instructs him to write. He holds an inkhorn in his left hand. His thick, blond hair is curly, and he has a nimbus of burnished gold. He has wrapped his mantle around him, the end of which floats softly in the air. The presence of Christ is suggested by the image of the Veronica in the red sky above John. Five busts of angels surround the Veronica, or Vera Icon. The angels lean with folded arms over the clouds and watch the scenes below them. They are painted tone on tone red and are only visible against the red sky because of the white highlights on their wings and hair. Their wings and even the left arm of the angel on the far right consist of small feathers. The three churches are not identified by scrolls as on f. 3r. The church in the upper left is probably the church of Sardis. Two skeletons fill the space in front of the church. The skeleton on the left holds his right hand to his breast and looks over his left shoulder back at John. The other skeleton, a stole wrapped around his body, has pulled up one knee and raises his left hand towards John. They refer to verse one: “I know thy works, and that thou hast the name of being alive. And thou art dead”.

The church in the lower left is the church of Philadelphia. Five people kneel in front of the open door. The man in the foreground facing the church wears a short, brown, high-collared doublet with pointed sleeves. The cuffs of his sleeves flare out and extend over his hands. He wears a broad belt of square, gold links around his hips. His hair is cropped high above his ears. The woman behind him is richly dressed. A white veil covers her head. Under the veil, the shape of the two small coils standing high on her forehead can be detected. This couple might well represent the patrons who commissioned this manuscript. They and their entourage could refer to verse 8 (“I know thy works. Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength and hast kept my word and hast not denied my name”) or verse 10 (“Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth.”). The faces of the couple, the two men behind them and the angel in the church opening are badly damaged, possibly even scratched out.

The church of Laodicea is symbolized in the lower right, by a group of three naked figures. The woman, standing, has her right hand raised and holds her left hand protectively in front of her abdomen. In front of her, a skinny man sits on a rock, his back turned to the spectator and his hands raised high above him. Next to him, facing the spectator, kneels a bearded, blind man with his hands joined in prayer. Like the skeleton above him in the miniature, he wears a stole. They represent verse 17: “Because thou sayest: I am rich and made wealthy and have need of nothing: and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”.

The flowers and trees resemble those in the previous miniature. The trees, however, are much smaller; the ones at the feet of the naked woman are hardly bigger than the flowers.

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