Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9156
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Muir Wright , Rosemary.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Great Whore in the Illustrated Apocalypse Cycles [traces the development of the image of the Whore of Babylon and discusses the impact that aristocratic female readers had on her representation in manuscripts both as the sovereign lady and as the evil other].
  • Source: Journal of Medieval History 23, 3 (September 1997): Pages 191 - 210.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Apocalypse Art History- Painting Great Whore of Babylon Iconography Illumination of Manuscripts Manuscripts, Ownership of Noble Women Patronage, Artistic Readers Sources Women in Art
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 13- 14
  • Related Resources:
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations: Ten figures, all manuscript illustrations. Cassiopea from the Leiden Aratea. Whore on the Beast, Bamberg Apocalypse (Ottonian period). Ecclesia, Volturno Exultet Roll (981-987). The pose, facing full front with arms outstreched, is the same one often used for the Whore foBabylon. Two illustrations from the facsimile volume of Herrad of Landsberg's "Hortus Deliciarum." The first depicts the Whore on the Beast. The second is a symbolic crucifixion with Ecclesia opposed by the Whore. The whore as a seductive young woman who is richly dressed (Brit. Lib. Add. 35166, Fol. 20r.). The Whore Drunk with the Blood of the Saints (Douce Apocalypse). Alexander and Candace in Bed (Cambridge, Trinity Coll. Lib. Ms. 0.9.34, fol. 34r). The Whore (Dublin, Trinity Coll. Lib. MS 64, fol. 25v) wearing a torque brooch and appearing full of regal authority. Luxuria in Hell (Apocalypse of Isabella of France). The author argues that since Luxuria is nearly identical to the figure of the Great Whore it underlines her connections with the Devil.
  • Table:
  • Abstract: This paper demonstrates how the imagery of the Whore of Babylon developed from the symbolic personification of a city to a type of evil female, in response to theological and social pressures. In accommodating the iconography of the Harlot to the requirements of the exegesis, the designers of the text may have found in the Apocalyptic Whore, a suitable scapegoat for the seductive aspect of Eve which could not be readily accented, because of the acceptance of the figure of Eve as standing for all womankind. But the personification of Babylon needed no such redress, for the textual description could lend itself to a straightforward identity with a woman of evil intent. The paper concentrates on the thirteenth and fourteenth century English Apocalypses because here the artist's design had to be acceptable to a new lay readership of aristocratic women. Many of the great illustrated cycles were designed especially for women whose sensibilities must have influenced the iconography of the Whore, particularly in those periods in which the reader was able to meditate upon the text/image in the relative privacy of her own chamber, without the interpretative intermediary of a chaplain. The choice of images will reveal something of the prevailing attitudes to female authority and the manipulation of the stereotypes to signal negative values without prejudice to the readership of the women owners of the illustrated Apocalypse texts. [Reprinted from the Journal of Medieval History 23, Wright, "The Great Whore in the illustrated Apocalypse cycles," 191, 1997, with permission from Elsevier Science.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of St. Andrews
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1997.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 03044181
  • Material/Technique :
  • Rights: