Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The Woman Seated upon the Beast
  • Creator: En, illuminator
  • Description:

    This image depicts the Whore of Babylon riding the beast. She embodies evil and poses a grave danger for “they who inhabit the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” (Revelation 17:2). She wears orange and blue clothing, with long hair and a veil, and holds up a gold goblet that has three red dots at the top. In her left hand, she holds the reins of a red, horse-like beast. Its muzzle is pointed and its bridle appears to be looped through a hole in it. The beast has cloven hoofs that are almost paw-like in appearance, and a snake as its tail; the snake’s head is visible on the viewer’s far right side of the painting. The woman and beast are in front of a pale bush, and they are approaching a large tree with a decorative, stylized trunk and leaves. The “crown” segment of the tree is comprised of an orange circle covered with golden leaves and dark-colored flowers.

    The Girona Beatus is a 10th-century illuminated manuscript, which contains “The Commentary on the Apocalypse” by Beatus of Liébana and Jerome of Stridon’s commentary on the Book of Daniel. The manuscript, which is 40 x 26 cm, includes 284 folios (leaves), with 115 surviving miniatures. It is regarded as unique for being one of the most densely illustrated of the surviving copies of the Beatus commentaries. The book was completed on July 6, 975 CE, likely at the monastery of Tábara, a house of both nuns and monks. The Abbot Dominicus commissioned it, and its scribe is identified as Presbyter Senior. Another unique aspect of the manuscript is that two further names are included: En and Emeterius. They stand out in larger script on a green background. Pride of place is given to En, a woman who is identified as a depintrix (literally painter but could also refer to a patron) and D[e]i aiutrix (“friend of God” that may identify a nun). The second, and subordinate name is an illustrator identified as Emeterius, a priest.

    Beatus of Liébana wrote the commentary on the Book of Revelation in the 8th century, and it survives in 34 different manuscripts. The text consists of seven prologues, a summary section, and 12 books, all varying in length. It is notable that the recent conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Islamicate Empire is reflected in the commentary on Revelation, as the conquering parties within the biblical text were now more strongly associated with the Muslim Caliphate than the Roman Empire. However, the commentary also focuses on sin within the church and how the “earthly” church was inevitably a place that could harbor evil and corruption.

    When Beatus of Liébana originally wrote his commentary in 776 CE, Europe was still recovering from the fall of the (western) Roman Empire. The Islamicate world was quickly spreading towards Europe, in particular with the 8th-century conquering of Spain. These significant changes in regimes had an impact on European perceptions of the world, especially when it came to how the world might end (and when). But it was not only historical events that made 8th-century Europeans imagine the end of the world. Based on calculations of the Earth’s age, Christian tradition determined that the world would end by the year 800 CE. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Beatus would write a commentary on the Book of Revelation so close to the beginning of the 9th-century.

    Despite his seemingly deliberate timing, however, Beatus does warn against marking such dates on your calendar. Attempting to discern the date of major events such as the apocalypse was, after all, discouraged by the church, as it had been originally discouraged by Christ. As the world did not end in 800 CE, apocalypse commentary, art, and literature continued to be produced, and Beatus’ work was copied into new manuscripts. The coming of the new millennium with the end of the 10th-century ushered in a new Doomsday, although the impact millenarian fears had on this text and its various compositions remains somewhat uncertain. There was still hesitancy when it came to attempting to calculate an exact date, for the same reason as had been true two centuries earlier, and therefore manuscripts like the Girona Beatus acted more as a means of preparing Christians for judgement day. The illustrations, in particular, were meant to evoke fear and remind Christian communities how Revelation was always imminent.

    There is significantly less information regarding the artists of the Middle Ages than that of later eras. What we know about artists comes largely from their signatures and self-portraits. When it comes to these traces, there is surprisingly little differentiation between the treatment of male and female artists, though female artists were mainly relegated to manuscript illumination and textile arts rather than more costly projects involving sculptural programs or altarpieces. That artists like En apparently signed their work may have been a way of petitioning for salvation through their holy works. Women artists may have also been motivated to seek salvation due to the depictions they saw (and may have created) of female sinfulness. In addition to the spiritual, these works and their signatures on them gave them a chance to be remembered by future generations. The similar treatment of works by men and women implies a lack of gendered value difference that is reflected in their common use of signatures and self-portraits.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Apocalypse Beatus Girona Beatus of Liebana, Monk Bible- New Testament- Book of Revelation En, Illuminator (?) Great Whore of Babylon Women Artists
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 10
  • Date: circa 975
  • Related Work: Colophon of Girona, Museu de la Catedral de Girona, Ms 7 that includes En's name and description.
    Images from the Beatus Girona on WikiArt.
    Whore of Babylon, Valcavado Beatus, fol. 43v, 970.
    Facundus, Woman on the Beast, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Ms Vit.14.2, fol. 72v, 1047.
  • Current Location: Girona, Cathedral of Girona, Museu de la Catedral de Girona, Ms 7
  • Original Location: Monastery of Tábara
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
  • Donor: Male religious; Dominicus, abbot of the Monastery of Tábara, commissioned the manuscript. In 1078 Johannes, choirmaster of the Cathedral of Girona, gave the manuscript to the Cathedral.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 40/26/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500-1200. Edited by John P. O’Neill. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. Pages 121-131. Available open access.

    Emmerson, Richard K. Apocalypse Illuminated: The Visual Exegesis of Revelation in Medieval Illustrated Manuscripts. Penn State University Press, 2018.

    Mariaux, Pierre Alain. “Women in the Making: Early Medieval Signatures and Artists' Portraits (9th-12th C.).” Reassessing the Roles of Women as 'Makers' of Medieval Art and Architecture. Edited by Therese Martin. Brill, 2012. Pages 393-427.

    Martin, Therese, and John Williams†. “Women’s Spaces—Real and Imagined—in the Illustrated Beatus Commentaries.” In Ana Rodríguez (ed). Memoria, género y poder en la Edad Media. Special issue Arenal 25, 2 (2018): 357-396. Available open access.

    Varela Rodríguez, M.-Elisa and Teresa Vinyoles Vidal. “Scattering Light and Colours: The Traces of Some Medieval Women Artists.” Duoda, the Women's Research Center of the University of Barcelona, 2008. Part of a series, The Difference of Being Woman. Available open access.

    Whalen, Brett Edward. Dominion of God: Christendom and Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Harvard University Press, 2009.

    Williams, John, and Therese Martin. Visions of the End in Medieval Spain: Catalogue of Illustrated Beatus Commentaries on the Apocalypse and Study of the Geneva Beatus. Amsterdam University Press, 2017.