Named after its repository in Toulouse but manufactured in England, this magnificent Gothic Apocalypse is a significant example of the Anglo-Norman Apocalypse tradition. Almost every page of this luxury manuscript is decorated with a large miniature, for a total of 121 illuminations, making the Toulouse Apocalypse one of the most extensively illustrated examples of the genre.
While the patronage and provenance of this codex remain unknown, its imagery, texts, and style of illumination are closely related to two other manuscripts produced in England in the early fourteenth century. As such, the captivating visual cycle of the Toulouse Apocalypse offers insight into the transformations of luxury book ownership and patronage in the Late Middle Ages.
The Toulouse Apocalypse pairs the Latin text of the Book of Revelation with an Anglo-Norman metrical translation and an Anglo-Norman prose commentary. To these texts is added the apocryphal Visio Pauli, an account of St. Paul’s vision of Hell, in Anglo-Norman verse. The manuscript was probably produced in London, in a secular commercial scriptorium.
Apocalyptic Drama in Pictures
The decorative program, comprised of 106 Apocalypse miniatures, fifteen illustrations of the Vision of St. Paul, and a single historiated initial at the opening of the codex, is closely related in iconography and style to the two other English Apocalypses (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 20 and London, British Library, Add. MS 18633). Here, like in the other examples, each miniature is formatted as a framed scene spanning the width of the page and a third to a half page in height, with the Heavenly Jerusalem occupying the only full-page illustration.
Each scene is placed at the opening of its accompanying text passage. The oversized figural gestures throughout the illustrations and a vibrant palette rich in intensely pigmented oranges and blues add a visual intensity appropriate to the source material. Some frames, patterned backgrounds, and details of the compositions are enriched with touches of shimmering gold.
Writing the End of the World
The text of the Apocalypse is written in a formal, slightly rounded book hand in dark brown ink, arranged in two columns. The Vision of St. Paul, in a somewhat larger and less formal script written with lighter ink, is likely the work of a second scribe.
Each of the texts of the Apocalypse and the commentary open with large initials decorated with foliate and grotesque designs, and the remainder of the texts contain two-line initials in red and blue decorated with simple penwork. The writing is crowded and the length of the columns occasionally uneven; in a number of pages the illuminations are stepped to compensate.
A Journey from England to France
The codex probably remained in England until it came into the possession of the convent of the Augustinians in Toulouse in the early eighteenth century. The convent was secularized in 1790 and opened to the public as the Musée des Augustins in 1795, and its library joined the collection of the Municipal Library of Toulouse in the nineteenth century. Today, the Toulouse Apocalypse is preserved in the Bibliothèque d’étude et du patrimoine.
- Images courtesy of the Bibliothèque numérique de Toulouse