'The Apocalypse in Art: From Bosch to John Martin', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on art, religion and the apocalyptic.

And I saw heaven opened,

and behold, a white horse…

As an addendum to the apocalyptic subject matter of the last few weeks, I thought why not descend into the hellish pits of medieval art and see what they were serving up as aperitivo to the End of Days. For sure there’s plenty of scary shit to go around, so let’s get started easy and work our way up to the real demonic stuff…

Albrecht Dürer was a 15th century German painter known to da Vinci and Raphael. In 1498 he produced the Apocalypse, a series of 15 woodcuts which depicted scenes of The Book of Revelation, a work which was to bring him acclaim across Europe.

Here are two of the most iconic scenes:

the apocalypse in art

The Four Horsemen

the apocalypse in art

The Whore of Babylon

See the full-sized images here and here.

Court painter to the Philip the Good (Duke of Burgundy), van Eyck produced The Crucifixion and the Last Judgement around 1440. Originally configured as the wings of a triptych, it is presented now as a diptych. Diptych and detail (full-sized here):

the apocalypse in art
the apocalypse in art

John Martin was a Romantic (and don’t you know romantics are always fatalists at heart?) who produced what can only be described as pure melodrama on the canvas. If he was alive today, he might be a political speech writer.

Here is one of his overwrought pieces of apocalyptic doom:

the apocalypse in art

See more here and here.

I know nothing about Hieronymus Bosch, other than there’s very little known him. But think apocalypse in art and no doubt you think ‘Bosch’; his most famous painting, Garden of Earthly Delights, was actually a wedding gift, intended to “illustrate the benefits and hazards of marriage through the lens of biblical storytelling”. Fuck me. There’s no doubt, though, it’s truly apocalyptic:

the apocalypse in art

See full-sized image here.

Bosch also painted The Last Judgement, his explicit treatment of the End of Days (full-size image here):

the apocalypse in art

What is Art? A manifestation of the unconscious mind, the physical representation of the zeitgeist of an era. In a time which produced the likes of Paradise Lost and Inferno, the sense of apocalyptism brought about by the combination of religious extremism and social upheaval is overpowering. Here we have some prime examples of the very elemental terrors which haunted the minds of Europe five, six hundred years ago. There is little today that comes close to the sense of terror and depravity.  

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 ‘The Apocalypse in Art: From Bosch to John Martin’, by Ultan Banan.  Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

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