‘The Getty Apocalypse’ (2013), limited edition, published by the Folio Society. No. 488 of 1,000 copies.
In the mid-13th century a remarkable creative flowering took place in English art, as influential preachers predicted the end of the world, and catastrophic events appeared to confirm their dire warnings, there was a surge in demand for illuminated manuscripts of Revelation, the culminating book of the New Testament known as the Apocalypse of John the Divine. The text is short, but filled with visionary imagery to which artists responded in spectacular fashion. Among the surviving examples, one of the very finest is the Getty Apocalypse, here presented in facsimile for the first time.
The Getty Apocalypse exemplifies the best of the English school of the mid-13th century, and is an exceptional artistic achievement. Over 80 magnificent miniatures set in succession above the text create a glorious sequence of divine revelation, leading the viewer through John’s poetic, dramatic vision of the Apocalypse. These are amongst the finest of medieval miniatures: exquisitely delineated in tinted colour embellished with gold and silver leaf. Each shows the hand of a master artist possessed of an unerring sense of composition, a wonderful understanding of colour, and a rare ability to express emotion through gesture and expression. Some manuscripts are more lavish in their use of gold, others are larger, or more idiosyncratic, but none can equal the unique combination of features found in the Getty.
Revelation tells of the vision granted to John the Divine. During the Middle Ages this shadowy figure was believed to be John, the author of the fourth Gospel. An apocryphal ‘Life’ of John tells of his persecutions under the Emperor Domitian. He was immersed in a cauldron of boiling oil (from which he miraculously emerged unscathed) and then exiled to the island of Patmos, where an angel showed him the vision that he described in his Revelation. He witnessed the ultimate battle between good and evil; the end of the world; the second coming of Christ, and the final fate of the saved and the damned. It is a powerful work, filled with disturbing images and symbols and written in a resonant, poetic language which still has the ability to instil awe in readers today.
For many in the medieval age, Revelation was a forecast to events which were expected to happen at any moment, a belief that fired the making of Apocalypses. Other theologians, however, preferred to interpret the Book metaphorically, to look for layers of hidden meaning which the initiated could apply to their lives and use as a tool to interpret the scriptures. Below each magnificent miniature appears the corresponding passage from Revelation written in black ink. Alongside it in red is an extract from the commentary by Berengaudus. This influential work of theology was probably written in the second half of the 11th century, although little more than his name is known about the author. It interprets and explains the vision and, in doing so, reveals much about medieval preoccupations with sin, scripture and the world. A full translation of both texts is provided in our commentary volume.