Initial V: An Angel before Micah by Unknown Franco-Flemish artist

Unknown Franco-Flemish artist

Initial V: An Angel before Micah, c.1270, Tempera colours, black ink, and gold leaf on parchment, Leaf: 47 x 32.2 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig I 8, v2 (83.MA.57.2), fol. 183, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

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‘When the Sun Sets, Who Doth Not Look for Night?’

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In this illumination from a magisterial thirteenth-century Vulgate Bible, the initial moment of prophetic vocation is framed by an enlarged ‘V’. It is the first letter of verbum, the first word of Micah 1:1 in the Latin translation: Verbum Domini quod factum est ad Micham Morasthiten (‘The Word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite’).

The scene features a bedside revelation: apparently, the Word has come unbidden, disturbing Micah’s peace. The prophet has turned in for the evening; his posture suggests he was sleeping, or at least trying to sleep. At left, he reclines, naked to the waist, partially covered in blue bedclothes, a white sheet across his torso, his forearms buried in his blanket.

The prophet is mute: his mouth is shut. But his eyes are open. Though he is poised for slumber, Micah’s expression nevertheless shows that he is quite awake. His body is covered, but his face—the window of the mind—is wide open.

At right, a winged angel, standing and slightly bent in Micah’s direction, beckons with the upturned index finger of his right hand. In his left hand, a scroll unfurls its full length in the curved shape of an inverted ‘S’ that bisects the space between him and the prophet. The scroll is unmarked, a roll of blank vellum: not a letter is written upon it.

Though biblical prophecy has become Scripture, in the beginning it was not so: we can read the bare scroll here as signifying that revelation comes to the prophet as something unscripted. The scroll serves as the sign that prophecy ‘happens’, that revelation is not ‘content’ but event, translating into sounds and signs, those flashes of divine insight that the Bible calls ‘the Word of the LORD’.

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