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The Treves Apokalypse
The oldest and largest illuminated manuscript of the Apocalypse
Monastery Library Trier, Codex 31, around 800

CODICES SELECTI, Vol. XLVIII

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Further Pictures

 

Available as Vol. 10 of the series "Glanzlichter der Buchkunst"

The Treves Apocalypse, called after its present place of conservation, not only represents the first illustrated version of the Revelation of St. John that we know of, but also features the most comprehensive illustrated cycle of this biblical book which survived from the Early Middle Ages.
What makes the Treves Apocalypse (Greek for revelation) so special, is its unique painted decoration which is unparalleled in contemporary Carolingian illumination. Its 74 full-page miniatures in red frames each illustrate a sequence of text from this last book of the New Testament which has been ascribed to an unknown St. John.
The enormous iconographic value of the codex is due to the fact that it is clearly marked by Paleochristian, presumably Roman origins. This makes the Treves Apocalypse one of the few testimonies reflecting late classical creation, a source to be tapped later by many medieval artists.

The miniatures

The miniatures of the Treves Apocalypse are coloured pen drawings, many of them covering a full page. They are all regularly inserted into the text, each illustrating the preceding section, with the exception of the first one (fol. 1v).
The illumination cycle of the Treves Apocalypse is a mere illustration of the text in a narrative form and offers no interpretation of the text whatsoever. No reference has so far been found to late classical or early medieval commentaries of the Apocalypse nor to other theological or liturgical scriptures.

Fascinating similarities to classical motives

Many of the illustrations stunningly show obvious parallels to classical motives. One of them is the goat-headed figure of Satan (fol. 66r and 67r) which goes back to the Greek idea of a deity called Pan and represented with the head of a goat. However, this depiction of Satan in the Treves Apocalypse was made at a time when the antique image of Pan was no longer known and the relation between the Greek goat god and the Christian Satan had fallen into oblivion. What remained in collective memory was Satan’s representation as a goat-like figure.
The illustration cycle of Treves holds numerous other motives of antique origin, such as the angel on fol. 19v who so stunningly resembles the figures of Nike, the antique goddess of victory. These obvious parallels lead us to assume that the cycle of the Treves Apocalypse goes back to a late antique sequence of images.

A visionary book

The Latin text of the Treves Apocalypse follows an early Italian Vulgate and is written in a well readable Carolingian minuscule script with an amazingly large portion in half-uncial. The text was erased and corrected in many places by a later hand, at the end of the 11th century.
Among the books of the New Testament, the significance of the Revelation used always to be a matter of controversy. Up until the 5th century, the Churches of Syria, Cappadocia and Palestine had not accepted the book as part of the canonical scriptures whereas the Western Church regarded it as an Apostolic Scripture. From the early Paleochristian era, this visionary work was decorated with illustrations, but none of these early illustrated codices survived.

The commentary volume

The extensive expert commentary describes the manuscript and its significance for the history of art. Richard Laufner covers the codicological aspect, while Peter K. Klein writes on the time and place of its making and on the illustration of the codex.

   
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