Apocalypse 2020 has arrived. The University of Tennessee has organized a semester of courses, lectures, and exhibitions around the theme of the Apocalypse. As part of Apocalypse 2020, the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives presents Unveiled: Four Centuries of Apocalyptic Visions, an exhibit of facsimile reproductions of medieval interpretations of the Book of Revelation.
Drawn from the UT Libraries’ rare books collection, this selection of apocalypse manuscripts, reproduced in facsimile, spans four centuries and tells the story of John the Evangelist’s visions through Biblical text, theological commentaries, and pictures that not only illustrate but also often interpret the prophecies.
Written near the end of the first century, the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, was written by John of Patmos (6-100 AD). The story’s rich symbolism, complex narrative, and striking visual imagery make it one of the most significant books of the Christian Bible and a popular source of inspiration for medieval illuminators. With over 130 illustrated Apocalypse manuscripts still in existence, the influence of this last book of the New Testament on medieval culture was extensive. In the Middle Ages, the only book of the bible to have more illustrated single-volumes was Psalms. In addition, the majority of illustrated Apocalypses include significant numbers of images, demonstrating the medieval interest in “vision” as a means to attain spiritual understanding.
Our current understanding of the term “apocalypse” usually brings to mind catastrophic events leading to unbearable suffering and the end of the world, but the word originates from the Greek apokalypsis which means “uncovering” or the disclosure of something hidden. In the Book of Revelation, the mysteries of the divine are unveiled for John, and while many of these visions depict supernatural demons, destructive plagues, and violent judgements against those who would do evil, they are balanced by portrayals of the guardians of good such as the Lamb of God, the Faithful Rider, and the Woman Clothed in the Sun. Ultimately, the final outcome is hopeful, in that divine justice prevails in New Jerusalem, a place where there is “. . . no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain . . .” (Revelation 21:4)
Unveiled: Four Centuries of Apocalyptic Visions will be on display in the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, 121 Hodges Library, through April.
Emmerson, Richard Kenneth. Apocalypse Illuminated : the Visual Exegesis of Revelation in Medieval Illustrated Manuscripts . University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018.
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