Woman Clothed in the Sun and the Defeat of the Seven-Headed Dragon
Beatus of Liébana
Las Huelgas Apocalypse
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1910
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon was under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried out while giving birth. And another sign was seen in heaven: a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail drew down a third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman, who was about to give birth, so that, when she had brought forth, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a male child, who was soon to rule all the nations with an iron rod. And her son was taken up to God and to his throne. And Michael and his angels were battling with the dragon, and the dragon was fighting, and so were his angels. But they did not prevail, and that great dragon, the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him. And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying: "Now have arrived salvation and virtue and the kingdom of our God and the power of his Christ." And the dragon pursued the woman (who received eagle wings to escape into the desert), sending out of his mouth water, like a river, so that she might be carried away. But the earth assisted the woman and absorbed the river.
Although later exegetes equated the Madonna of the Apocalypse with the Virgin Mary, Beatus saw her as the Church that, through baptism and sermons, gives daily birth to Christ among believers. The woman is shown twice, at upper left, clothed with the sun, and below (with wings), after her escape to the desert, where she avoided the river issuing from the dragon. At upper right, her son (Christ) stands before God. At lower right angels condemn naked sinners to hell, where Satan is already imprisoned.
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.