Thursday, April 21, 2011

Inspired Collecting, Holy Week focus, Collecting Apocalypse Manuscripts, More Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts

As I was thinking about book collecting during Holy Week, 2011 and writing about Book of Hours, my thoughts naturally turned to Apocalypse Manuscripts another example of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts.  Along with Book of Hours, Psalters, and Bestiaries, Apocalypse Manuscripts are generally considered a worthy target for book collecting and since these beautifully illustrated books rarely survived as a whole, the few that did, are sometimes reproduced in facsimile editions.  Collecting Apocalypse Manuscripts in facsimile is the most likely route to building a collection of illuminated Apocalypse Manuscripts.

Icon of St. John the Theologian
author of the New Testament Book of Revelation
In modern usage, apocalypse is the cataclysmic end of times, ponder worldwide destruction, plagues, beasts, the war to end all war and the final judgement.  Apocalypse is Greek in origin and traditionally translated into English as revelation.  The final book of the New Testament is the Revelation to John and tradition holds that the book was written on the island of Patmos in the 1st century AD.  Reading The Revelation to John is a worthwhile activity for anyone interested in Western religion and mythology and acquiring illuminated editions is a great way to experience the visions of the revelation.  Apocalypse:  Visions from the Revelation in Western Art, by Frederick Van Der Meer, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, Alpine Fine Arts Collection Ltd, New York, 1978 and Mercatorfonds, Antwerp, 1978 is a fine, affordable, overview with numerous illustrations from medieval illuminated manuscripts. 

The most famous of the Medieval Apocalypse Manuscripts is associated with the 8th century AD monk, Beatus of  Liébana , who created a Commentary on the Apocalypse in the 8th century AD in Spain.  Between the 8th and 13th centuries, many Apocalypse manuscripts were created in Spain, England and France.   There are 35 copies of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of  Liébana  know to exist, 27 are illustrated.  The most complete and stunning illustrated example is held by the Morgan Library in New York City, Morgan Manuscript 622, the Las Huelgas Apocalypse.  Every Apocalypse Manuscript collection needs a copy of A Spanish Apocalypse:  The Morgan Beatus Manuscript, Introduction and Commentaries by John Williams, Codicological Analysis by Barbara A. Shailor, George Braziller, Inc., in association with The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1991.  This is a fabulous book and an affordable first step in developing an Apocalypse Manuscript collection.

Angel Of The Eternal Gospel, Worshipers, And The Fall Of Babylon
Beatus of Liébana
Las Huelgas Apocalypse

The Cloisters Apocalypse, held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also available in a reasonably priced facsimile edition.  The Cloisters Apocalypse:  An early fourteenth-century manuscript in facsimile, two Volumes (Volume 2, Commentaries on an early fourteenth-century manuscript, by Florens Deuchler, Jeffrey M. Hoffeld and Helmut Nickel), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971 is a great companion to the Beatus Apocalypse and with both, a collection is started!

The Trinity Apocalypse in facsimile
The original is held by Trinity College, Cambridge
There are numerous fine, limited edition, facsimile Apocalypse Manuscripts available but many are very expensive.  A fine list of potential acquisition targets may be found here and here.  One example that qualifies as rare, collectible and breathtaking is Die Trinity-Apokalypse Kommentar (The Trinity Apocalypse and Commentary), Faksimile Verlag, Luzern, 2004, 2 Volumes, Volume 1 full color facsimile, Volume 2, Commentary by David McKitterick.  While you may still be able to buy directly from the publisher, a copy is available here for around $2200.

Perhaps, someday, the Revelation of John will come to pass, perhaps before then, we will add an Apocalypse celebration to our annual holiday observances and commit one day a year to universal contemplation of the end of time!  Until then, I plan to continue building a small collection of Apocalypse Manuscripts, they simply are amazing.

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