The Estense Apocalypse, also known as the Apocalypsis Johannis, is a marvelous xylographic book, printed in brown ink around 1460 in the Dutch or Rhine region and considered unique due to its hand-colored images.
The enchanting imagery of the Apocalypse was always an inviting source of inspiration for predication, astrology and for artists such as Memling, Albrecht Dürer and the medieval illuminators of the Beatus of Liébana. However, the Estense Apocalypse stands out for being a rare example of incunabulum, a more affordable and popular alternative to publications obtained through typesetting.
An Apocalypse in Short Captions and Vivid Images
The Estense Apocalypse appears similar in style to the Bibliae Pauperum made in the German area in the same period, and not too distant from the teachings of the Flemish school of the early 1400s; at the same time it seems to project itself towards models and moments of religious life still in gestation. In many scenes the engraver-painter shows neither respect nor pity for the faults of the clergy, a kind of prelude to the reformed rebellions that were to shake the Germanic world and the whole of Europe.
The book consists of 48 sheets, 44 of which are divided into two scenes while 4 show single scenes. Each plate is defined by a line that serves as both a frame and a border separating the scenes. The images are printed and colored on the recto of the sheet while the verso is blank.
In the nineteenth century the plates were detached, trimmed and glued to 22 × 29 cm sheets. The order of the plates, for the first time in this kind of codex, respects the biblical text and so increases the originality of the work. The block-cut Latin writing, in medium-large letters, is arranged in scrolls or freely outlines the figures, blending together with them perfectly, almost anticipating modern comics.
The worn out 1900s binding in half leather and cardboard has now been substituted by a calfskin binding.