The Apocalypse of 1313 was made for Isabella of France, the wife and queen of Edward II, king of England. This volume belongs to a broader genre of Apocalypse manuscripts – the popularity of which peaked in the 12th century – and also to a class of so-called illuminated manuscripts, characterized by golden and silver embellishments of text and illustrations. According to modern analyses, as many as five different writers participated in the creation of The Apocalypse, but it is signed by, and hence commonly ascribed to, Colin Chadewe. Very few medieval artists came to prominence during their lives or later in history, and Chadewe, regrettably, is not among them; little is known about this man, not to mention his four helpers. However, that is certainly not the case when it comes to the patron of The Apocalypse, who is one of the most famous figures of Medieval England. Isabella was well-educated for the time, and in addition to this book she left behind a sizable collection of manuscripts falling into several genres. Still, some may argue that her most notable legacy was her own rather turbulent life that earned her a nickname “She-Wolf”: at one point, alongside her lover, she led an army from France against her husband, ultimately defeating him, only to be dethroned and imprisoned by her son, Edward III, several years later. Thanks to the latter’s wish to maintain good relationship with France, Isabella’s imprisonment was short-lived and she was given an opportunity to lead a quiet life in the countryside, which she did until her death.
The size of The Apocalypse implies that, unlike some of its larger counterparts, it was meant to be hand-carried and used for daily readings and contemplations. It measures some 24 centimeters high, 17 centimeters wide and 6 centimeters thick. There are a total of 167 folios bound by wooden boards and six ribs. As for the content, the book is described by many an expert as a unique guide through landscapes of Hell and the allegories presented in the Book of Revelations. Each scene is carefully depicted in line with the original text. In particular, the artist’s unprecedented imagination and use of intense colors in order to achieve a dramatic effect allow us to get a glimpse of tortures described in medieval sermons that await sinners after death – they are sawed in half, skinned, dipped in boiling oil and mutilated in many other ways. Every picture conveys the same message: “There is no hope of exculpation; the verdict and the punishment are final and everlasting.” To some modern readers who are used to seeing much more gruesome and vivid sights on television, these scenes that are lacking perspective and detail might seem pale and even downright naïve in comparison; however, it is also true that we cannot even begin to imagine their profound impact on the psyche of an average medieval man, whose world view was completely defined by the Church. In addition, one has to admire the competence with which the author managed to combine the text, the illustrations, his own interpretations and other people’s comments into a seamless work of art.
The original copy of The Apocalypse of 1313 is kept in Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. World-renowned M. Moleiro Editor has come up with a very faithful facsimile edition of this book, numbering exactly 987 copies.
In the age before the invention of the printing press, books were a relatively rare commodity. In most cases, they were commissioned by rich patrons who could afford them – kings, nobles and highly-positioned members of the Church, the only important nonstate actor of the time. And with religion dominating the world view of medieval Europe, it is understandable that Gospels, prayer books, exegetical studies and other Bible-related texts were highly prevalent in its literary corpus. As a rule, these texts were accompanied by fantastic and at times even bizarre illustrations intended to stir the imagination of believers and instruct them in the joys and sorrows of the afterlife.