Curatorial Essay


The apocalypse is defined as the time of revelation, the return of Christ, and the day of judgment. During this time, the people who have done good will be rewarded with going to heaven and the people who committed bad deeds will go to hell. This notation of apocalypse has been revolving around in many different cultures, and it has been illustrated by artists of different time periods as a religious practice. During this essay, items will be introduced that represent illustrations of artists during the middle ages and the cultural expressions and feelings about the apocalypse.



The Moralized Bible which was made in France from 1227 to 1234. This illumination was made of vellum or animal skin. It was made for King Louis IX of France. This illumination, as described in the curatorial descriptions of the Morgan Library, was meant to depict that he was moralized by his mother Queen Blache of Castile as a child so he would be able to reign as an independent man. Later in the illumination, we see that the king is reading to a scribe. The style of this manuscript is Gothic as shown in the manuscript by the high pointy structure of the building and the use of stain glass patterns in the background. In the later leaves, we see miniatures that represent the apocalyptic scenes. These miniatures all represent the biblical quotations of the story of apocalypse. Where the good, the king, and the angles all have halos and wings and the beast has seven heads and ten horns with crowns on each head. Each leaf is divided into four columns. Two of the columns contain the miniatures and the other two contain texts and the quotations. The text is written in Latin and it makes sense for a piece of art to be written in Latin. Logically, it was also easier to communicate through Latin among other cultures and countries at this time period. Each of the miniatures which have quotations right next to it has a capitalized first alphabet. Each of these capitalized letters alternate in colors from blue to red. These colors probably represent the outcome of the day of judgment, blue representing peace and good, red representing evil and hell. The most used colors are blue and gold on the outline of the miniatures. Each row of figures from a sequence of stories. The figures are naturalistically drawn and they are meant to represent the good and evil, angels and beasts and the rise of the dead.[1]



The Apocalypse illumination which only contains four miniature drawings has no official name. These illuminations were also made in France during a period of nine years from 1290-1299. This illumination is also on vellum. However, this illumination has no accompanying text that helps the viewer understand which exact stories the drawings are from. The most used color is dark blue, like the Moralized Bible. This blue color probably represents the heaven and the skies since the story is conveyed in a way that all the apocalyptic scenes are happening in the sky and the angels are leading people to heaven. The figures are naturalistic like the Moralized bible. The brown color where John and the angel are standing most probably represents the earth as it has some random shapes embedded in it that look like tree roots and fire. The angel and John both have halos around their heads. The angel is leading John to a doorway that is said to be the doorway to the New Jerusalem. The doorway has twelve panels with different colors, which are representing different earthly gems. John is holding a staff in his right hand while his left hand is being held by the angel. This figure and other figures accompanying this miniature are all drawn in a rectangular shape and have borders around, like the Moralized Bible with the circular borders. Since these two illustrations, the Moralized Bible and the Apocalypse, both have been made in France and in the same century, there are a lot of similarities. Such as the way humans and the angels are depicted, as well as the colors used.[2]


Another manuscript which is also called the Apocalypse as well was made in England as well as France, in later parts. This manuscript was made during 1250-1260. This manuscript was also made on vellum. However, like the Moralized Bible, it has texts accompanying the illustrations. The images are depicted to convey the story of apocalypse. However, the colors are faint in this illustration, as opposed to the other two discussed above where the colors used were vibrant and bright. The text in this manuscript is written above the images. The text is in Latin as well, which might be due to the fact that it was also made during the same period of time in Europe and Latin was live language at the time. The color of each line alternates from red to blue, like the Moralized Bible discussed above. The blue might be representing the heaven and the good whereas the red represents the hell and the bad and evil. These correlations could also be described by the date these manuscripts were made. This Apocalypse manuscript is divided into two illustrations per leaf. John is again depicted as a person with a halo and the beast has seven heads. The beast is in red color in this illustration and its followers hold spears and swords. The people of the town are confused and surrounded by a wall in the city. The figures of the bodies are still naturalistic and organic, just like the other two manuscripts.[3]



Another one of the manuscripts that were chosen to compare cultural understandings of the apocalypse in the middle ages is the Beatus Manuscript. This manuscript was written in 1180 in Spain. The Beatus Manuscript was also made on vellum. There is corresponding text with the illumination on the leaves on this piece. The text of this manuscript is also in Latin, again representing the time and area of Europe that Latin was commonly used. The illustration is fully bordered like the other illustrations. The most vibrant colors are again used in this piece. The illustration is divided into three registers which most probably represent sky with a blue color, earth with a brown color, and the inner earth with a green color. Stars and the sun are both present at the same time in the sky, which represents the revelation day when the day and night are mixed. There is an angle with wings and a halo in the sky that has a trumpet close to his mouth. This represents the time that the angel is calling for the dead to arise and line up for the judgment. There are lizard-like creatures all around the page which are taking people with themselves, which might represent the bad is taken by the evil. There is light shining through the sun and it is passing through into the inner earth. This light is not in an ordinary color of yellow, but it is in red color. This color might be representing flames going into the inner earth to awaken the dead and destroy the earth. There is a man in a cave inside the inner earth. This man is holding a staff in his right hand and there is a star accompanying him. This man could be a representation of the dead which are supposed to be awake at the time of apocalypse. The text of this manuscript is also in two different colors as well, in red and black. The initial alphabet is capitalized like the Moralized Bible.[4]



During the time of middle ages, the apocalypse was depicted through art just as much as any other biblical scene. The story of rising from death and receiving judgment based on the life people had on earth was something people read in the bible and practiced their lives based upon. The four objects chosen in this project were to represent the apocalyptic art in the middle ages. The three of these objects were made in France, one in France and England, and the last one in Spain. They were all made during the 12th to 13th century, the time representing Romanesque and Gothic art and architecture. All of these manuscripts were made on vellum, or animal skin, as it was a common practice to illuminate vellums for this purpose. All of them used colors that I believe represent the good and evil, such as blue for good and heaven while red could be representing hell and evil as the opposing color. There were animal creatures that I think represent the evil creatures in the story of apocalypse and they seem to have captured the evil people to be punished. The angles and the bodies depicted in all of the images were naturalistic, like the Romanesque art. The angel in all of the images had a halo around the head and wings. The man who is interpreted by Professor Morey (Morgan Exhibition, Cat. 1934) as John, was also depicted as a holy person with a halo and a staff. The colors were vibrant in most of the manuscripts, the most used colors were dark blue and gold. The texts, for the manuscripts with text, were all written in Latin. I think this was due to the fact that Latin was a language that was in widespread use in Europe during this time period, and also by writing the manuscript in Latin, other churches and other people from other countries and cultures would be able to read it. Since the apocalypse is a universal story in the bible, communication was important.

In general terms, all of these manuscripts follow the same pattern of thought. Even though they were made by different artists and different places in Europe, the practices overlapped. They all depicted the story of apocalypse through different imageries.






[1] Morgan Library & Museum. "Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts." Moralized Bible, MS M.240 Fol.    1v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum. Accessed    April 05, 2018.



[2] Morgan Library & Museum. "Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts." Apocalypse, M.1043.1r - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum. Accessed April 05, 2018.


[3] Morgan Library & Museum. "Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts." Apocalypse, MS M.524 Fol. 17v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum. Accessed April 05, 2018.



[4] "Leaf from a Beatus Manuscript: At the Clarion of the Fifth Angel's Trumpet, a Star Falls from the Sky; the Bottomless Pit Is Opened with a Key; Emerging from the Smoke, Locusts Come Upon the Earth and Torment the Deathless | Spanish | The Met." The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. Accessed April 05, 2018.



Curatorial Essay