Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Woman Clothed with the Sun
  • Creator: Facundus, scribe and possibly artist
  • Description:

    This image comes from a copy of the Commentary on the Apocalypse that was commissioned for King Fernando I and Queen Sancha of Leon-Castille. In a colophon the scribe identifies himself as Facundus but he may have also been the chief artist. Commentary on the Apocalypse was originally written during the eighth-century by Beatus of Liebana, the abbot of the Asturian monastery of Saint Martin (later known as Santo Toribio). However, the popularity of Beatus’ manuscript inspired many copies in the following centuries, some of which were illustrated with fantastic figures in bright, primary colors.

    The illuminations painted in Fernando and Sancha’s manuscript were executed in the Romanesque and Mozarabic styles, the latter an Iberian approach influenced by Islamic art. The figures retain a stylized, linear form, display an intense bi-dimensionality that does not allow for much illusionism, and utilize strongly contrasting colors. Unlike most tenth-century manuscripts, as John Williams points out, the figures in the “Facundus Beatus” manuscript stand firmly on ground planes, although these are not actually visible due to the retention of the colorfully banded background. As a result, this Beatus lacks much of the energy apparent in most tenth-century Apocalypse commentaries. Instead it exhibits a sense of disciplined restraint which would have been appropriate for the cosmopolitan court of Leon-Castile.

    This illustration reflects a vision of Saint John in Revelations 12:1-6: "And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: and being with child she cried travailing in birth and was in pain to be delivered. And there was another sign in heaven: and behold a great red dragon…and the dragon stood before the woman…that when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule the nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God…And the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God.”

    The woman in the top left corner represents the first great sign. She wears a golden cloak, holds the sun in her hands, and stands on the moon. The stars surrounding her head act as her halo. Many scholars interpret this woman as a symbol of the Church and the sun signifies Christ the Savior. When clothed with the sun, the woman is transformed into a symbol of Christian fortitude and salvation by the grace of Christ. The crescent moon under her feet is thought to represent the Holy Scripture, and the means by which the Church, personified as the figure of the woman, is brought to heaven. The dragon is the second sign, and represents the Devil. The seven heads signify the forms of evil the Devil uses to deceive the human race. The story and image of the Woman Clothed in the Sun would have served as a paradigm for the original audience of this manuscript. Like the woman robed in the sun, each Christian was vulnerable to attacks, danger, and difficulties that surpassed human capacities to solve, especially at this time when there was great anxiety about the coming of the Apocalypse. However as this illumination shows, even the vulnerable and weak had the potential to be saved by God through their faith in the teachings of the Church.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Angels Apocalypse Commentary, Literary Genre Dragons Salvation Woman Clothed with the Sun
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 11
  • Date: 1047
  • Related Work: See the full manuscript digitized on the World Digital Library site: http://www.wdl.org/en/item/10639/#languages=lat
  • Current Location: Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, MS Vitrina 14-2, 187r
  • Original Location: Spain
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint;
  • Donor: Layman and laywoman; Fernando I, King of Leon-Castille; Sancha, Queen of Leon-Castille;
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 36/28/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Fried, Johannes. "Awaiting the End of Time around the Turn of the Year 1000." in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religous Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050 edited by Gow, Andrew, Richard Landes and David C. Van Meter. Oxford: University Press (2003). Pgs. 27-29.;
    Grubb, Nancy. Revelations: Art of the Apocalypse. New York: Abbeville Press (1997). Pg. 54.;
    Mariana, Manuel Sanchez. Beato de Liebana: Codice de Fernando I y dona Sancha. Barcelona: Biblioteca Nacional (1994). Pgs. 171-176.;
    Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Art of Medieval Spain A.D. 500-1200. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (1993). Pgs. 16-17.;
    Morgan, Nigel J. Illuminating the End of Time: The Getty Apocalypse Manuscript. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. (2011). Pgs. 52-53.;
    Verdon, Timothy and Filippo Rossi. Mary in Western Art. New York: Hudson Mills Press (2005). Pgs. 53-56.;
    Williams, John. The Illustrated Beatus: The Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. Vol. 3. London: Harvey Miller Publishers (1998). Pgs. 32-38.;
    Wolf, Kenneth. "Beatus of Liebana." in Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia edited by Gerli, E. Michael. New York: Routledge (2003). Pgs. 155.;