Produced in London, the dazzling Corpus Apocalypse is the most copiously illustrated of fourteenth-century English Apocalypses. The slim volume of just seventy-two leaves is densely packed with 121 narrative illuminations, all of exquisite draughtsmanship and richly elaborated with tooled gold and silver. Of the many splendid examples in the genre of the illuminated Apocalypse, this one is unique for its inclusion of an English Coronation Order that might have been used in the coronation of Edward II in 1308 or Edward III in 1327, although on stylistic grounds the manuscript may be better dated to the 1340s. The patron was a Lord of Cobham and as such inherited a role to play in the coronation ceremony, an honor that is richly commemorated in this personalized Apocalypse.
The deluxe manuscript includes the Book of Revelation in Latin with an Anglo-Norman French metrical version and prose comment; the Vision of St. Paul in Anglo-Norman French verse and Latin prose; and finally, the English Coronation Order in Anglo-Norman French. The characteristic combination of Latin and vernacular, and of prose and verse, speaks to the vital role of Apocalypse manuscripts in the growth of literacy among English nobility in the fourteenth century.
Vibrant Visual Storytelling
This copiously illuminated volume includes 106 miniatures illustrating the Book of Revelation, fourteen illustrating the Vision of St. Paul, and one nearly full-page illumination for the Coronation Order. The refined figural style, characterized by elongated and expressively gesturing figures, gently flowing drapery, and delicate facial types, is quintessential English Gothic, while the treatment of elaborate architectural structures and three-dimensional space indicates Flemish influence. An intensely pigmented palette of orange, pale blue, violet, and pale beige is intensified by the shimmer of tooled gold and silver on every page, imbuing the scenes with a vibrantly expressive energy well suited to the content of the texts. Two painters collaborated on this manuscript; both their hands can be identified in the Hornby-Neville Hours (London, BL, Egerton MS 2781), and one also contributed to the Smithfield Decretals (London, BL, Royal MS 10 E. IV) and the Taymouth Hours (London, BL, Yates Thompson MS 13).
A Single-Handed Effort
The text of the Corpus Apocalypse is written in two columns in a large, slightly sloping Gothic textualis quadrata, in the same hand throughout. Since the entire book was executed in a single campaign, the idiosyncratic compilation of the three texts must have been planned, and commissioned as such, from the outset. All decorated initials, in blue ink on plain parchment or in gold on colored grounds, were added by the illuminators.
A Noble Patronage
In the historiated initial at the beginning of this magnificent book, the patron is represented kneeling wearing the arms of Cobham, a leading family in southeastern England that held high positions at the English court. Traditionally identified as Henry de Cobham (d. 1339), it is more likely that the patron was in fact his son John de Cobham.
Soon after production the codex passed to Juliana de Leybourne, Countess of Huntington, who bequeathed it to St. Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury upon her death in 1367. The abbey was dissolved in 1538; its manuscripts were acquired by Matthew Parker, Master of Corpus Christi College and archbishop of Canterbury, who left his enormous collection to his former college in 1574. To this day the Corpus Apocalypse resides among the priceless treasures of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.