Produced in 1313 for Isabella of France, Queen of England (r.1308 - r.1327), this small but lavishly decorated Apocalypse in French contains 162 painted miniatures that constitute the most extensive cycle of illustrations ever created for the Book of Revelations. Along with other unique versions produced in England during the early fourteenth century, the Apocalypse of 1313 demonstrates a turn in Gothic manuscript art to more intimately-scaled, private devotional objects of meditation. Newly created images in Isabella’s manuscript suggest that the artist, Colins Chadewe, was working to incorporate the individual tastes of a single aristocratic patron.
The manuscript is particularly unique for a fourteenth-century French Apocalypse insofar as it shows no trace of the Parisian style. Indeed, it appears that Chadewe was working from two disparate models that he blended together for one book: a French cycle from a moralized Bible, and an English-inspired illustrated Apocalypse, thereby reflecting Isabella’s dual-identity between England and France.
A One-of-a-Kind Example of French Gothic Art
An inscription on the back flyleaf declares that one man, Colins Chadewe, both designed and illuminated the manuscript (“l’ordinat et l’eluminat”) in October of 1313 (“le semedi après le sain Donis”). Each of the miniatures show immense energy and precision, and the raw emotion of the figures’ facial expressions is juxtaposed by the manuscript’s brilliant colors and lavish use of burnished gold.
The frames of the full-page illustrations also show a wide variety of flora and fauna: leafy plants and flowers, birds, hares, and monkeys, as well as the occasional hybrid creature and demon. The bordered vision of the Woman in the Sun (fol. 34r), for example, is a stunning assemblage of glittering surfaces: the burnished gold background, the red and gold sun, and the glittering but skeptical half-moon.
Because Philip IV the Fair, the book’s patron and father of Isabella of France, was especially close with his daughter, many of the images in Isabella’s Apocalypse allude to the significance of French royal power: the full-page illustration for the Adoration of the Lamb on fol. 21r, for example, sports the pope and his cardinals on the left, and a crowned ruler holding a sceptered fluer-de-lis facing the pope on equal footing entering from the right.
A Collaboration of True Professionals
The text and commentary in Isabella’s Apocalypse appear in double columns, and the gorgeous Gothic Rotunda script was clearly executed by professional French scribes. New sections of text are indicated by decorated capitals in pink, blue, and gold. The designer’s colophon at the end of the manuscript is written in a thinner, more cursive Gothic hand, and it was likely done by Chadewe himself rather than the text’s main scribes.
A Royal Commission
The Apocalypse was made for Queen Isabella, daughter of Philip IV the Fair and wife of Edward II, and is probably the “Apocalypse in French” identified in her personal collections after her death in 1358.
The manuscript was likely commissioned to celebrate Isabella’s first state visit to Paris in May and June of 1313. The 1313 Apocalypse then made its way into the family library of the Dukes of Burgundy before being donated to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
The binding, which is not original to the manuscript, is a soft, white-leather binding.