15.09.20, Sáenz-López Pérez, The Beatus Maps

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Jessica Sponsler

The Medieval Review 15.09.20

Sáenz-López Pérez, Sandra. trans. Peter Krakenberger and Gerry Coldham. The Beatus Maps: The Revelation of the World in the Middle Ages. Burgos: Gil de Siloé, 2014. pp. 347. ISBN: 978-84-94199-110 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Jessica Sponsler
Pennsylvania College of Art & Design

The mappae mundi found in the illustrated copies of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana are critical to the scholarship of medieval cartography. These maps provide a significant opportunity to investigate medieval mapmaking within a body of manuscripts from northern Iberia and southern France dating to the tenth through thirteenth centuries with implications for earlier maps. Sandra Sáenz-López Pérez presents a thorough study of the Beatus mappae mundi in her recent book, The Beatus Maps: The Revelation of the World in the Middle Ages. Her investigation focuses upon the arrangement of each extant mappa mundi into one of three families and the identification of both textual and pictorial source material providing charts, tables, and a wealth of color illustrations to supplement her discussions. She bases her work upon primary sources as well as the scholarly history of the Beatus manuscripts. [1]

Sáenz-López Pérez begins her examination in chapters one and two with a summary of the textual context of the Beatus mappae mundi and an analysis of the scholarship on the Beatus manuscripts. She continues with a summary of the types of maps, particularly tripartite and zonal maps, and their medieval sources, such as the work of Isidore of Seville. She also briefly describes contemporary Western European mappae mundi. In her discussion of the Beatus maps as a group, Sáenz-López Pérez notes that differences between each map make it difficult to analyze them as a coherent corpus but do allow for the creation of stemmae or families of maps (67-68). She includes a detailed diagram illustrating her conclusions on the relationships among the Beatus maps (104-105).

After establishing an organizational structure for the Beatus group, Sáenz-López Pérez carefully catalogs the geographical features found in the Beatus maps and possible source material for those features in chapter three. Her discussion includes a look at the shape of the maps, the use of color, how the continents and bodies of water are depicted, and the appearance of features like mountains or deserts. In chapter four, she examines the relationship between apostolic evangelization and the mappae mundi. In many of the Beatus manuscripts, there appears to be a connection between the preceding text that describes the mission of the apostles and the mappae mundi, suggesting perhaps that the maps were intended to illustrate that text (181). Sáenz-López Pérez provides a helpful chart (183-184) connecting each apostle to the location of his apostolic mission as shown on each Beatus mappa mundi.

Chapter five examines the so-called fabled lands or geography that was mythical during the Middle Ages such as the fourth continent, Paradise, Ethiopia, the Land of the Amazons, Arabia, and the Land of the Phoenix Bird. She especially focuses on differentiations in the depiction of Paradise, as either the source of the four rivers or the locus of original sin with an illustration of Adam and Eve. These differences in the depiction of Paradise support the construction of family groups established in chapter two (204-207). Sáenz-López Pérez looks at the regions, provinces, and cities found in the Beatus maps in chapter six. Her transcription in Annex II (287-293) of each labeled place name will be particularly helpful to other scholars. She traces the biblical, antique (mostly Roman), and medieval sources of place names found on the Beatus maps and includes a brief analysis of how each place is shown, whether by text caption, illustration, or both, as well as the source material, usually textual, for that place.

Her final chapter summarizes her investigations with a special focus on which mappa mundi may be closest to the archetype or map that was used in the original copy of the text. Sáenz-López Pérez believes that the Lorvão Beatus mappa mundi in Lisbon (MS CXII/247, fol. 34 bis v) is the likeliest to resemble the archetype closely, while the mappae mundi found in the Beatus of the cathedral of Burgo de Osma (MS Cod. I, fols. 34v-35r) and the Saint-Sever Beatus in Paris (MS Lat. 8878, fols. 45 bis v-45 ter r) also contain details helpful for the reconstruction of the original and its source material. The Lorvão map has the closest relationship to the preceding text on the apostolic mission indicating the eighth-century archetype's original function as an illustration to the text of the Commentary, a relationship lost in later copies of the manuscript (269). She argues that the maps and texts of Isidore of Seville were likely the primary influence on this archetype but other texts, like Paulus Orosius and Cosmas Indicopleustes, as well as lost Roman maps also contributed to the original Beatus mappa mundi (273-274).

At the end of her study of the Beatus world maps, Sáenz-López Pérez acknowledges that she attempted to investigate a large amount of material and that she left many questions for other scholars to answer (282). Her discussion of both the wealth of material found on the Beatus maps and the possible origins of those maps in this book is detailed and meticulous; but, following in the tradition of earlier scholarship on the Beatus manuscripts, she focused almost entirely on cataloging the maps through an identification of the source material and recreating the archetypal Beatus map. She mentions how the maps may change to reflect historical and artistic contexts at the beginning of her work (31-32). She only returns to this idea in the last chapter suggesting the maps may be used to investigate medieval Muslim-Christian relations or the ideology of contemporary religious and political issues, like Santiago de Compostela and its rise in importance during this period; however, the discussions are very brief and it is clear that an understanding of historical context was not the primary focus of Sáenz-López Pérez's work (280-281). Sáenz-López Pérez is correct in stating that this book leaves much open for others. The Beatus Maps: The Revelation of the World in the Middle Ages, with its painstaking compilation of a vast amount of material relating to the depiction of the world in the Beatus manuscripts, will be a helpful start to other scholars wishing to examine the historical, art historical, cultural, or religious contexts of the Beatus mappae mundi.



1. Although many scholars have contributed to the study of the Beatus manuscripts, the seminal studies on this group of manuscripts include Peter Klein, Der ältere Beatus Kodex Vitr. 14-1 der Biblioteca Nacional zu Madrid: Studien zur Beatus-Illustration und der spanischen Buchmalerei des 10. Jahrhunderts, 2 vols. (New York: Olms Verlag, 1976); Wilhelm Neuss, Die Apokalypse des hl. Johannes in der altspanischen und altchristlichen Bibel-Illustration, 2 vols. (Munich: Aschendorffschen Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1931); and John Williams, The Illustrated Beatus: A Corpus of the Illustrations of the Commentary on the Apocalypse, 5 vols. (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1994-2003).

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