This talk explores the problematics of transforming the concept of silence, in all the different meanings that silentium acquires in medieval culture, into images, from the primordial silence of God before Creation and in the fullness of time, to the apocalyptic silences of the book of Revelation, or the “sonorous silence” of psalmodic recitation in monastic communities. We will be focusing specifically on the illustrations of the apocalyptic passage of "silence in heaven" (Revelation 8.1) in a group of medieval manuscripts of the Commentary on the Apocalypse by the Spanish monk Beatus of Liébana, dated from the 10th to the 12th centuries. These images present a fascinating variety of pictorial solutions that have been largely overlooked: the combination of abstract and symbolic patterns, the deconstruction of script, and the exploration of the materiality of the parchment as a theatrical milieu to make silence present and palpable. We will analyze the conditions of production and reception of these images in the context of 10th-century Mozarabic monasticism and within practice of lectio divina, where the concept of silence acquired multiple meanings. We will also engage in a theoretical reflection on the problematics of the representation of silence, drawing analogies with several 20th-century artists such as John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg whose artistic experiments around this theme find their medieval counterparts in the productions of those remarkable illuminators.
Francisco Prado-Vilar is Director of Cultural and Artistic Projects at the RCC (Harvard University), Scientific Director of the Andrew W. Mellon Program for the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and member of the Committee of the European Heritage Label (EU).