Friday, 15 December 2006

Silos Apocalypse

This spectacular manuscript of Beatus of Liébana’s commentary on the Apocalypse survives in near perfect condition from the first decade of the 12th century. It was copied and illuminated in the Spanish monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos at a time when the monastery’s scriptorium was producing its finest work. Painted in brilliant colours and embellished with gold and silver leaf, its 106 striking miniatures illustrate the most extraordinary scenes in the Christian Bible - a triumph of artistic vision.
Its beauty and excellent state of preservation would alone make this an important manuscript. But there is more besides. It also contains one of the oldest Christian maps of the world. The map presents a picture of the Mediterranean world virtually unchanged since the 8th century, which in turn reflected an even older world view inherited from Roman times.
The map was intended to show the routes taken by the Christian missions of the early saints. East is at the top of the map, rather than the right as in modern maps. Adam and Eve are portrayed against a dark green background representing the verdant Garden of Eden. Beyond the Red Sea is a hint of an undiscovered fourth continent that some ancient thinkers – among them, Pliny, the first-century Roman writer – had suggested must exist in order to balance the known land masses of Europe, Asia and Africa.

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