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Figure 1 


Posture and balance of the organic miniatures of the Codex of San Andrés de Arroyo

Adelina Martínez Rodríguez, Miguel Angel Crovetto de la Torre, José Ramón Bilbao Catalá, Rafael Crovetto Martínez1
Escuela Universitaria de Enfermería. Universidad del País Vasco. Leioa. Vizcaya, España

Mail Delivery: Adelina Martínez Rodríguez. Escuela Universitaria de Enfermería. Universidad del País Vasco, C/ Sarriena s/n. 48940 Leioa. Vizcaya. España

Manuscript received by 22.09.2007
Manuscript accepted by 15.01.2008

Index de Enfermería [Index Enferm] 2008; 17(1)








How to cite this document



Martínez Rodríguez, Adelina; Crovetto de la Torre, Miguel Angel; Bilbao Catalá, José Ramón; Crovetto Martínez, Rafael. Posture and balance of the organic miniatures of the Codec of San Andrés de Arroyo. Index de Enfermería [Index Enferm] (digital edition) 2008; 17(1). In </index-enfermeria/v17n1/6616e.php> Consulted





The Beatuses are Spanish medieval codices that refer to the Apocalypses. Miniatures full of human and celestial characters accompany the text. The Beatus of San Andrés de Arroyo is one of them. We have made an anatomic and postural analysis of the figures of this Beatus.
We've found human and celestial figures who's posture and balance are lacking in harmony, contrary to physiology. On the other hand we have found other figures that maintain a perfect balance, representing movement and motionlessness correctly.We believe, based on all this, that there is more than one Beatus de San Andrés de Arroyo illustrator, one of them being more of a naturalist than the other.
Key-words: Balance. Corporal posture. Medieval Beatuses.









    The Beatus of San Andrés de Arroyo is a medieval Codex of the XIII century, a copy of previous ones, created in some unspecified part of Castile (Spain). Beatuses are manuscripts accompanied by illustrations, and are called this way in honor of Beatus from Liébana, abbot of the Monastery of Valcavado, author and promoter of the first original Codex in the form of Commentaries on the Apocalypses of Saint John. The success of this manuscript was enormous, and it circulated widely throughout a large part of the Spanish Middle Age. Beatus from Liébana published the original in the year 776, as an attempt to make Saint John's difficult and hermetic text clearer. Later on, after the death of Beatus, his work was reinterpreted in other monasteries between the IX and XIII centuries, and these new Codices, the particular manuscript specialities of northern medieval Spain, are collectively known as the Beatuses.
    The Beatus text is accompanied by illuminations that illustrate it. Each of the copies of the original Beatus introduces the stylistic aspects that correspond to the atmosphere and epoch when it was "transcribed"
1,2 In general, the miniaturists that produced the Beatus illustrations are anonymous, save some exceptions (as is Beatus Magio). Moreover, the number of artists that participated in the elaboration of the Beatus is unknown.1
    Despite the existence of general studies on the style of these medieval illuminations,3 this is the first analytical study about the adequacy of the posture and the balance of the characters represented in them.

Materials and Methods

    The original manuscript of the XIII century Codex of San Andrés de Arroyo can be found in Paris, conserved in the "Bibliothèque Nationale de France". In 1998, the editorial Moleiro Editor S.A. (Barcelona, Spain) published the facsimile version of the Codex, of such outstanding quality that it is difficult to distinguish from the original. This facsimile has been used as the fundamental material to produce our investigation.4 Every one of the characters that appear in the Codex has been studied by direct observation of the miniatures and an analysis of the fidelity in the anatomical representation of the human figures, the postural adequacy of the characters in static equilibrium and the suitability of the corporal balance represented in the movement of human, celestial and demoniac figures have been carried out. Consequently, our investigation must be regarded as descriptive. Additionally, other medieval Codices have also been analyzed using the same methodology, in order to make a comparison of the postural findings observed, among the different Beatus Codices from different centuries.


    Figure 1 represents two motionless characters that are talking facing each other: on the right side is the angel of the Church of Sardes and a man listening to the angel's message is on the left. Both figures maintain a static bipedestration. The listener's figure presents a discreet outward rotation of his inferior extremities, which hang heavily. The angel appears motionless in a more complex manner: note how the body leans mainly on the right leg, and the folds on the angel's robe suggest a slight forward flexion of the right knee. The left inferior extremity presents an external rotation and rests on the front part of the sole. The figure shows a general attitude of advancement, as if exhorting the person that is being warned; it must also be noted that with the same intention, both superior extremities point in the direction of the listener.

Figure 1    Figure 2

Fig. 1. The messages from the seven churches: the Church of Sardes. Codex of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo. Storia: Apocalypse, III, 1-6; and Fig. 2. The fifth trumpet. Codex of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo. Storia: Apocalypse, IX, 1-6.

    Figure 2 represents four human characters that are being attacked by locusts with long tails, as described in the apocalyptic text. Only one of them, the one at the bottom right turns his assaulted head in the opposite direction of the nociceptive stimulation, while the rest of them direct their heads, in an incongruent manner, towards the attacked side.
    Figure 3 shows four angels that have lost their wings and thus fall from heaven to hell, downwards in physical terms, in such a way that their heads are in caudal position in relation to the rest of the body. The two angels to the left present a cervical situation of apparent rest, with no extension. The fourth angel, on the right side of the scene, presents a discreet cervical extension with relation to the vertical direction of the fall. The third angel presents a slight, almost doubtful cervical extension. Note that the two latter angels (those with cervical extension) confront the two demons that await below, in a hostile attitude, while the two other angels are not directly threatened by the demons' aggression.

Figure 3    Figure 4

Fig. 3. The woman dressed as the sun and the dragon. Codex of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo. Storia: Apocalypse, XII, 1-18; and Fig. 4. The order comissioned to San Juan to write of the revelation. Codex of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo. Storia: Apocalypse, I, 10-20.

    Figure 4 presents a character in lateral decubitus position due to the fact that, as the Storia refers, he has fallen heavily to the floor, impressed by the presence of God. The inferior extremities are perfectly extended while the superior ones present a fundamental situation of extension, although it could be said that they adopt a defensive attitude towards the fall, leaning on the floor on which they heavily land, in an attempt to avoid traumatic damage. The inexistent flexor activity associated to this lateral position, more obvious in the inferior extremities, must be noted as a fundamental finding.
    In Figure 5 we see an angel walking, the right leg ahead with the sole resting on the floor, while the posterior muscles of the left leg behind, especially the soleus and the geminus, have been put in action, causing the elevation of the left heel and pushing the angel forward.
    In conditions of automatism, this phase of the march is accompanied by a coupled mechanical movement of the superior extremities, so that the right superior extremity should be caudally extended to the back, following the contralateral leg. However, to point at the character on the bottom left side of the scene, this extremity appears in a different position. It has been taken there by a voluntary decision mediated by the pyramidal tract and thus breaks the automatism of the march in a volitional act of superior substrate. On the other hand, and with respect to the left superior extremity it adopts a flexion of the elbow that is also contrary to the automatism of the march, and lifts the hand so it can point at the female character on the opposite page of the Codex (not shown in this work).

Figure 5

Fig. 5. The great whore of Babylon. Codex of the Monastery of San Andrés de Arroyo.Storia: Apocalipsis, XVII, 1-3.


    The creation of medieval Codices is a monumental task that was very desirable for the new monasteries gradually being established accross reconquered lands. It seems proven that each medieval Codex of the Beatus is a copy of a previous one and so it was necessary for the creating monastery to have an earlier copy, which was normally lent by another monastery.2 This situation limited the creativity of the illumination artists, although it wasn't an obstacle for them to take some artistic initiative, in accordance with the tendencies of the particular monastery.
    Figure 6 belongs to Beatus Magio. This copy is called this way in honor of his illuminator, called Magio who was a renowned X century artist and illustrated various Codices in different monasteries. The Beatus Magio was created at the monastery of San Miguel de la Escalada in the year 926.
5 The scene represents Saint Matthew the evangelist who remains in bipedestation, although he maintains an ambivalent attitude, since he is looking to the right towards God's Throne and yet points to the left with his right hand at a scroll that corresponds to the Gospels written by himself and which he is holding in his left hand. The character supports himself on the tip of his left foot and the inner margin of his right foot, which is deformed and not anatomically proportioned. It seems obvious that this static bipedestration is not very adequate and less organic and functional than the one we saw in figure 1, from the Codex of San Andrés de Arroyo.

Figure 6        Figure 7

Fig. 6. Beatus Magio, f. 1v. Saint Mathew (U.S.A); and Fig. 7. Georges Seurat. The Circus (1890) Oil on canvas 186x153 Louvre Museum. París.

    Figure 2 represents an abnormal abolition of the flexor reflex of retreat, of an antialgic and defensive character, and the characters' posture contravenes the physiology.6
    Figure 3 presents four characters that fall vertically in such a way that their heads are situated in a caudal position relative to the rest of the body. All of them present an apparent cervical rest, with no evident signs, especially in angels 1 and 2, of the physiological cervical extension. This is contrary to the stretch reflex that such a fall should produce.7 This reflex, that seems to originate in the inner-ear labyrinth, is magnificently represented in George Seurat´s 1891 masterpiece entitled "The Circus" [figure 7], in which the acrobat jumps in such a way that his body becomes inverted, with his feet on top, and yet his body still preserving a cervical extension, completely compatible with the stretch reflex which in turn, will in the end help him recuperate balance in such fall.
    The lateral decubitus position offers a rich flexor component of the extremities, which in part results from the neurophysiological activity of the bulbar olive and the neocerebellum, together with its medullar connections.
8 Undoubtedly, and as a consequence of this flexor attitude, the subject lying on lateral decubitus is more efficient, as the possibility of maintaining static equilibrium is greater when we take into account the increment in organic support. In other words, an extension of extremities determines a precarious equilibrium of the lateral decubitus position, and so it is avoided. The image of the Beatus lying on his decubitus in figure 4 breaks these rules.
    It is interesting to compare the illumination that accompanies the Beatus object of the present that we refer to with the one in the Beatus of Fernando I and Doña Sancha, painted two centuries before [figure 8], in which it can be seen that the lying figure of the narrator maintains a flexed attitude in his inferior extremities. This is more in accordance with the physiology of the encephalic trunk that directs, with a rich flexed attitude, the lateral position.

Figure 8

Fig. 8. The order comissioned to Saint John to write on the revelation. Beatus of Fernando I and Doña Sancha. Biblioteca Nacional. Madrid. Vitrina 14-2,f.46 r.

    In figure 5 we see an angel walking in a physiological manner. This phase of the march is normally followed by a synchronic crossed movement of the superior extremities; however, this arm remains in a different position, directed by a voluntary decision, mediated by the pyramidal tract, that breaks the automatism of the march in a volitive act of superior substrate. The left superior extremity adopts, contrary to the automatism of the march, a flexion of elbow that elevates the hand and allows the angel to point at the figure of the woman that occupies the opposite page of the Codex, not shown in the figure. This position is perfectly feasible, and very harmonic, since willpower can inhibit reflex activity, no matter how elaborated it may be.
    Overall, the apparent lack of harmony between the figures that, although simple and small in size, maintain a reasonable degree of body balance, and those others that do not maintain any equilibrium at, could possibly be due to the existence of two or more illuminatation authors. Based on these considerations we believe that the hypothesis that there were at least two authors in the Beatus of San Andres de Arroyo can be defended. One of them is much more respectful with the corporal dynamic harmony than the other illuminator(s) are.


1. Vivancos MC. El Beato de San Andrés de Arroyo. En Beato de Liébana. Codice del Monasterio Cisterciense de San Andrés de Arroyo. Editado por Moleiro M, Barcelona, 1998; 15-70.
2. Yarza J. Beato de Liébana. Manuscritos iluminados. Moleiro, Barcelona, 1998.
3. Ocón D. Aproximación estilística. En Beato de Liébana. Codice del Monasterio Cisterciense de San Andrés de Arroyo. Editado por Moleiro M, Barcelona, 1998; 75-107.
4. Beato de Liébana. Facsímile del Códice de San Andrés de Arroyo. Moleiro, Barcelona, 1998.
5. García V. El Beato de San Miguel de Escalada. Archivos Leoneses 1979, XXXIII: 205-270.
6. Guyton AC, May JE. Funciones motoras de la Médula espinal: Reflejos medulares. En Tratado de Fisiología Humana. Madrid, McGraw-Hill, 1996: 743-756.
7. Ciges M. El equilibrio. Anales de Otorrinolaringología 1987; II (2): 91-106.
8. Amat P, Bernal G, Doñate F, Ferres R, Lancho JL, et al. Tronco del Encéfalo. En Escolar. Anatomía Humana. Funcional y Aplicativa. Barcelona, Espaxs, 4ª ed. 1990; 1349-1409.


    The authors would like to thank the Department of Physiology of the School of Medicine of the University of the Basque Country (Spain) for their invaluable assistance and M. Moleiro Editores, S.A (<www.moleiro.com>) for their permission to use their images in this article.



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