The Las Huelgas Beatus takes its name from the Castilian monastery of Las Huelgas in Burgos, the monastery where the manuscript was discovered in the late 1860s. Made in 1220, the book represents the largest and most recent codex of a tradition of five centuries of medieval illuminated commentaries on the Book of Revelation. The original text dates to circa 775, when the Asturian monk Beatus wrote an explanatory piece of one of the most cryptic and imaginative books of the Bible.
Beatus was motivated by his calculation that the world would end in 800. The commentary became a fundamental source of inspiration for illuminators who enriched the text with colorful and vivid illustrations. The Beatus tradition is considered Spain’s most important contribution to medieval manuscript illumination.
The Origin of the Las Huelgas Beatus
Produced in the royal monastery of Las Huelgas, it seems probable that the codex was commissioned by the queen Berengaria of Castille, sister of Alfonso VIII, who was the founder of the monastery in Burgos.
Afterwards, the codex belonged to the Monastery of Saint Clement of Toledo, founded by Alfonso VI, and was handed over to the order of the Cistercians by Alfonso VIII. The manuscript is remarkable for its extensive decoration along with the illustrations of themes usually omitted by other illuminators.
The Beatus of Las Huelgas contains over 90 miniatures of varied sizes, from a quarter of a page to a full page and even, in certain instances, to a double page.
Of these miniatures, 70 portray the Book of Revelation and 11 Jerome’s commentary on the Book of Daniel. These miniatures illustrating the book of the Old Testament are attributed to the Master of Toledo.
New Materials for the Beatus Traditions: The Originality of the Las Huelgas Illuminations
The Las Huelgas Beatus, in addition to the extensive illustrations of the Beatus manuscripts, presents a series of illuminations rarely found in other books. The manuscript displays traditional images like the Angels Playing the Trumpets and the Adoration of the Lamb.
Some illuminations are rare in the Beatus tradition or they even appear as novel features of the Las Huelgas exemplar. The images illustrating the prefaces are enriched with biblical scenes. For example, the Genealogical Tables display scenes taken from the Book of Genesis along with the Adoration of the Magi.
Original iconographies are also discernible in the Angels Holding the Arms of the Cross of Oviedo, the image of Christ in Majesty, the depiction of the Evangelist Portraits accompanied by witnesses, the illumination of Saint Michael Slaying the Dragon, and a full-page representation of the letter Omega.
The illuminators painted the imaginary scenes with vibrant colors typical of the Spanish illumination.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Beatus of Liébana - Huelga Codex": Apocalipsis de San Juan. Beato de Liebana. Monasterio de Las Huelgas facsimile edition, published by Scriptorium, 2004