Vision Of The Lamb And The Four Living Creatures
Beatus of Liébana
Las Huelgas Apocalypse
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910
And in the middle of the throne, and all around the throne, there were four living creatures. The first resembled a lion, the second an ox, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth resembled a flying eagle. And while those living creatures were giving glory and honor and blessings to the One sitting upon the throne, the twenty-four elders fell prostrate and adored him. And in the right hand of the One sitting on the throne, I saw a book, written inside and out, sealed with seven seals. And in the midst a Lamb was standing, as if it were slain. And when the lamb received and opened the book the four living creatures and elders fell down before the Lamb, each having stringed instruments, as well as golden bowls full of fragrances, which are the prayers of the saints. And they were singing a new canticle, saying: "O Lord, you are worthy to receive the book and to open its seals, because you were slain and have redeemed us for God, by your blood." (Rev. 4:6–5:14)
The insertion of Christ with the book above the Lamb has resulted in the loss of the axial symmetry seen in the Morgan's tenth-century Beatus (exhibited nearby); the calf had to be moved to the right. At the end of the second century the four living creatures were connected with the evangelists, becoming their symbols (the man represents Matthew; the lion, Mark; the calf, Luke; the eagle, John). The creatures and fiery disks under them derive from Ezekiel's vision of the cherubim. The vision is enclosed by a starry border supported by four angels; at the lower right John converses with an angel.
The Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, is not only the last Book of the New Testament, but its most difficult, puzzling, and terrifying. It provided challenges to medieval illustrators and was the source for a number of popular images, such as Christ in Majesty, the Adoration of the Lamb, and the Madonna of the Apocalypse and contributed to the widespread use of the Evangelists' symbols.
Selected images from Apocalypse Then: Medieval Illuminations from the Morgan, an exhibition held at the Morgan are presented here. The exhibition celebrates the completion of a facsimile of the Morgan's Las Huelgas Apocalypse—the latest dated (1220) and largest surviving manuscript of a Spanish tradition of illuminated commentaries on the Apocalypse by the monk Beatus of Liébana. The series of manuscripts constitutes Spain's most important contribution to medieval manuscript illumination.
The Las Huelgas Apocalypse contains three sections: the prefatory cycle, the Apocalypse, and the Book of Daniel.
In addition to forty-nine images from the Las Huelgas Apocalypse, six images from other manuscripts in the Morgan's collections, including the earliest Beatus painted by Maius and one by the Master of the Berry Apocalypse, are in this presentation.