The Val-Dieu Apocalypse was created in Normandy around 1320-1330. It is named for an inscription indicating that it was once in the library of the Chartreuse of Val-Dieu near Mortagne-au-Perche. The text, which relates the events of the end of time as described by Saint John the Divine in the Christian Bible, is bilingual alternating between the Latin of the Vulgate Bible and a French translation. Chapters begin with enlarged illuminated initials sometimes with extensions of colorful scrollwork inhabited by birds and hybrid creatures. The manuscript features eighty-three detailed miniatures filling the top half of most of the book's pages.
The miniatures feature a broad and bright palette with delicate shading and fine detailing, bringing the story of the end of days to vibrant life. Gold is limited to halos, vessels, ornament, and suns. The figures are well proportioned with neatly drawn faces.
More than Eighty Apocalypse Illuminations
The enigmatic events of Saint John's prophetic vision are pictured in the Val-Dieu Apocalypse's miniatures. The manuscript's large format provides ample space for the complex compositions featuring detailed depictions of the many fantastic characters described in John's text. The characters often interact in rocky rolling landscapes or amid the ruins of fallen cities in front of a patterned backdrop of dark diapering. Saint John is sometimes pictured outside the frame of a miniature looking in, or he may be shown experiencing his vision from within the miniature.
The illustrative program once numbered ninety-one miniatures, but the top halves of four leaves have been excised by a picture collector, leaving the surviving eighty-three scenes.
One of a Group of Norman Apocalypses
The Val-Dieu Apocalypse is one of four stylistically related Apocalypses created in Normandy in the third decade of the fourteenth century: the Apocalypse of Saint-Victor, the Cloisters Apocalypse and the Namur Apocalypse (Namur, Grand Seminaire, MS 77). All four are also related to the Pontifical of Guillaume de Thiéville (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 973), indicating a flourishing, albeit perhaps short-lived, workshop of illuminators.
An Apocalypse for Wealthy Laity
The manuscript's extensive illustrations point to a wealthy patron, perhaps a noble couple bearing the arms included in some of the painted initials (fols. 11v, 12r, 13r, 14r, 15r, 16r, and 16v). It has been suggested that the couple may be the pair pictured in the Cloisters Apocalypse. By the seventeenth century, the book came into the possession of the Chartreuse of Val-Dieu. It was purchased by the British Museum in 1848. The manuscripts of the library of the British Museum were transferred to the newly established British Library in 1973.