The only Beatus manuscript that inspired Picasso.
The Saint-Sever Beatus is part of a group of twenty-seven illustrated commentaries on the Book of Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana, a monk who lived in the Kingdom of Asturias, Spain, until ca. 800. For more information on the Beatus model, read our blog article by Amy R. Miller (PhD, Medieval Art History, University of Toronto).
112 miniatures illuminated in gold and more than 1,400 colour initials. The most lavish, ground-breaking and artistically significant of all the Beatus codices. Contains the only complete text of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana, dating from 776.
The most complete Commentary on the Apocalypse
A work of extraordinary importance is the only way to characterize the Saint-Sever Beatus and all the superlatives it has accumulated scarcely do justice to its beauty. Certainly it is the most lavishly illustrated, original and artistically significant of all the known Beatus manuscripts, as well as providing the most complete text of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana.
The Saint-Sever Beatus was illustrated by Stephanus Garsia and other hands by order of Gregorio Muntaner, abbot of Saint-Sever, (1028-1072) an important monastery located in Gascony along the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela. Although it is one of the few Beatus manuscripts made outside the Iberian peninsula – along with the Genevan Beatus, Berlin Beatus, and the Beneventan Beatus fragment – its iconographic apparatus follows Spanish tradition.
Its great point of artistic interest is the way in which the illuminators have made use of the iconographic conventions employed in the first edition of the Beatus and combined them with imagery from the third, the most lavishly illustrated edition of them all, while at the same time incorporating other motifs from what is probably a non-Hispanic illustrated Apocalypse.
A quasi-modern expressionism
Accordingly, this is the only Beatus that has drawn on three different models for its illustrations. Above all, one cannot help but be astonished by the artistic and intellectual sophistication of the miniatures, which are both extraordinarily faithful to their Biblical sources, while at the same time exhibiting a prodigious naturalism and quasi-modern expressionism.
This is the only Beatus with a double-page “Maiestas Domini” equal in monumental scope to any of the great Romanesque carved portals in France. It is for that reason art historians have speculated that the manuscript was illuminated by a group of itinerant professional artists who had previous experience as mural painters.
Taken as a whole, the images of the Saint-Sever Beatus are one of the masterpieces of medieval miniature painting. It is no wonder, then, that in Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, the figure of the fallen soldier is inspired by the huge figure of a drowned corpse in the illustration of the Great Flood in the Saint-Sever Beatus.
Images courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
We have 4 facsimiles of the manuscript "Beatus of Liébana - Saint-Sever Codex":
- Beato de Liébana, códice de Saint-Sever ("Pergamenata" Edition) facsimile edition published by Patrimonio Ediciones, 2012
- Beato de Saint-Sever facsimile edition published by Club Bibliófilo Versol, 2010
- El "Beato" de Saint-Sever facsimile edition published by Edilan, 1984
- Beato de Liébana, códice de Saint-Sever (Gold Edition) facsimile edition published by Patrimonio Ediciones, 2012