Dr. Richard Emmerson, visiting scholar in Art History at Florida State University, has written a book about the end of the world as we know it – or at least, medieval visualizations of it. Emmerson’s seventh book, Apocalypse Illuminated: The Visual Exegesis of Revelation in Medieval Illustrated Manuscripts, was published in March by Penn State University Press. In it, Emmerson covers the breadth of medieval manuscripts that grapple with the topic of the Apocalypse and the Antichrist. Emmerson found that there was no concise, well-organized book that contained all 25 of the best-known apocalyptic manuscripts, so he decided to write one. He focuses on both the texts and the accompanying illustrations in these manuscripts, examining the relationship between word and image.
Emmerson is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy and a renowned scholar of medieval apocalypticism and its representation in art, drama, and visionary poetry. He served as chair of Art History at Florida State University from 2006 to 2009, and thereafter as Dean of Liberal Arts at Manhattan College. After retirement, Emmerson returned to Tallahassee and a visiting position in Art History at FSU, where he teaches graduate seminars on medieval manuscripts and a fall E-series course, The End of the World in Art. The undergraduate course deals with apocalypticism and fundamentalism in historical and modern art media. Both courses prove his love for and interest in how people view the end of the world through a fundamentally religious lens.
Emmerson’s doctoral dissertation in English literature, which he completed at Stanford, centered around apocalyptic manuscripts. This early interest in apocalyptic imagery ultimately led to his new book, the culmination of over 40 years of study and research – a true labor of love. Emmerson completed the majority of the writing in 2015, after which he began the process of gathering reproductions, which, according to Emmerson, was one of the most challenging parts of developing the book. He particularly wanted to include high-quality illustrations of these manuscripts, many of which would be seen for the first time in the same volume. In 2016, Emmerson received one of seven Millard Meiss Publication Fund grants offered by the College Art Association, which provided support for the 100 illustrations finally collected for the book – illustrations spanning seven centuries, from Carolingian manuscripts made in the early eighth century to a lavish manuscript made for the Duke of Savoy in the late fifteenth century. Emmerson also credits Art History Media Center Curator Jean Hudson for her assistance in procuring and arranging the images.
Emmerson said he is “delighted” with the final product, a beautiful book filled with iconographic analysis, text and image comparisons, and well-crafted tables and charts to aid in the reading. The book has received glowing reviews by fellow medievalists. Harvard art historian Jeffrey Hamburger writes,
Just as Virgil led Dante through the underworld, so too Richard Emmerson guides his readers through the visionary landscape of medieval Apocalypse illustration from its early medieval origins right through to the Reformation. One could ask for no better guide. The culmination of a career dedicated to the expert examination of the Book of Revelation and its immeasurable impact on medieval culture, Emmerson’s book provides a confident overview peppered with penetrating insights.