This Beatus belongs to a family of Beatus Commentaries of which the other members are the Thompson Beatus (New York) and the Seo de Urgel copy. The distinguishing features of this group are the beauty of their calligraphy and the excellence of their miniatures. Today the Valladolid University Beatus is the jewel of the Library of Santa Cruz College (founded in the 15th century), part of the University, to which it came from St Ambrose College after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767.
The Valcavado Codex 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).
The manuscript today comprises 230 folios measuring 355 x 245 mm., but it was originally larger, before the margins of the folios were trimmed by at least 10 mm. It is written in perfect, round Visigothic script, similar to that seen in other codices from the Kingdom of León from the same period. 14 folios have disappeared, and it is probable that the five folios with genealogies in Case 14-2 in the National Library in Madrid belong to it. The book was compiled at the direction of Abbot Sempronius, by Oveco, a monk from the Monastery of Santa Maria in Valcavado, on the banks of the Carrión river, slightly to the north of Saldaña. It was executed very quickly, the work lasting 92 days (from 8 June to 8 September 970), at a rate of 5 pages and a half per day, which constitutes a record for the Middle Ages.
In addition to the many decorated initial letters, the copy contains 97 miniatures, some on two pages and a large number on whole pages, most of them well preserved. The technique and colours are similar to those of the other manuscripts in the family and firmly in the style of the great León school founded by Magius and developed by other scribes such as Senior and Emeterius. A particular characteristic of this school is the division of miniatures into a series of of bands of different colours, in an attempt at perspective. St Jerome’s Commentary on the Book of Daniel, which contains an outstanding miniature of Belshazzar’s Feast, exhibits a different pictorial technique.