The Representation of Antichrist in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias

The Representation of Antichrist in Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias

Richard K. Emmerson

Gesta, Vol. 41, No. 2 (2002), pp. 95-110


Drawing on inherited traditional symbolism, apocalyptic iconography, and monastic exegesis, this essay explores how the representation of the Vision of the Last Days in Hilde- gard’s Scivias, and, in particular, the image of Antichrist, may have been understood by Hildegard, her monastic mag- ister, Volmar, and other members of her earliest audience. Focusing on the miniature included in the lost Rupertsberg manuscriptof Scivias as the best witness to Hildegard’s original designs, the essay argues that the vision, its visual ren- dering, Hildegard’s description of it, and the commentary on it spoken by the Voicefrom Heaven are qualitatively and tem- porally distinct aspects of Hildegard’s visionary experience. In a concluding analysis, thefrontispiece of the Rupertsberg manuscript, which depicts Hildegard in vision, is shown to distinguishfour stages in her visionary experience.

Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is the source of one of the most startlingand daringimages of Anti- christ in medieval art (Fig. 1; Color Plate 1). A tripartite miniaturere presenting an apocalyptic nightmare,it visualizes the seer’s vision of the Last Days (Scivias 3.11). According to Hildegard, Scivias originated in 1141 when, at the age of forty-two, she was instructed by a Voice from Heaven to record the prophetic visions she had experienced since childhood (60). Receiving first the support of her monastic magister, Volmar (d. 1173), and then-according to medieval tradition-the encouragement of the most respected mystic of her time, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), as well as the endorsement of Pope Eugenius III at the Synod of Trier (1147/48), Hildegard completed Scivias in 1151. It is the firstof threeremarkablevisionary works, which also include her Liber vitae meritorum (1158-63) and her Liber divi- norumoperum (1163-74). The subject of much recent scholarship, Hildegard,as Peter Dronke writes, “still confrontsus, after eight centuries, as an overpowering, electrifying pres- ence-and in many ways an enigmatic one.”

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