A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Osma Beatus

Burgo de Osma, Cabildo de la Catedral, Cod. 1

The 8th-century Spanish monk Beatus of Liébana wrote a biblical commentary that detailed his trepidations about the Apocalypse; his text was copied and illustrated numerous times in the 10th through 12th centuries as Iberian Christians tried to imagine the world at the end of time. These ‘Beatus’ manuscripts, nicknamed after their author, were large and brightly illuminated with saturated colors and vigorous figures; many also include large world maps that extend across full openings of the oversized volumes and depict the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe in ‘T-O’ style with the Garden of Eden, believed by medieval Christians to have been located in the region we might identify as China, appears at the top of the page and orienting the map with North on the left and South on the right. A monopod with a single oversized leg is visible on an island to the south of Africa, reflecting the medieval notion that strange and monstrous peoples lived at the edges of the world. Topographical features are drawn schematically and only loosely anchored in reality; the goal was to represent the world conceptually rather than to guide a physical journey. 

The original manuscript remains in the cathedral of Burgo de Osma, Spain, where it has been since it was completed by the scribe Pedro and the illuminator Martino in the 11th century. Pitt’s libraries have a particular strength in facsimiles and other publications on the Beatus tradition thanks to the legacy of John Williams, who wrote the definitive scholarly catalogue of these evocative manuscripts during his 35 years as Professor of History of Art & Architecture at Pitt.

To the best of our knowledge, this manuscript has yet to be fully digitized and made available online.  If you would like to bring an open-access digitization to our attention, please contact the UAG at Pitt.

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