Art of the Apocalypse


Gothic Art Map
Revelations (Art of the Apocalypse)
    Visions of the World to Come    
    Angels of the Apocalypse    
    The Four Horsemen and the Seven Seals    
    The Beasts, Antichrist, and the Women    
    Judgment Day    
    The Devil and the Damned    
    A New Heaven and a New Earth    
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)



The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
who bare record . . . of all things that he saw.

Revelation 1:1-2

William Blake (1757-1827)
The Angel of Revelation



vital roles in much of the action. Awe-inspiring and destructive—and bearing little resemblance to the sweetly sentimental cherubs and guardian angels so *■' popular today—the formidable angels of Revelation have supernatural powers and attributes: "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire" (10:1). For an artist's attempt to depict this godlike creature, see the background of Hans Memling's altarpiece (see below), in which every element of this description is faithfully rendered.


Hans Memling (1435-1494)
St John Altarpiece
Memling Museum, Saint Jeans Hospital, Bruges

Hans Memling (1435-1494)
The Archangel Michael
Wallace Collection, London

Some angels in Revelation use their powers to control nature: "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree" (7:1). (In the illustration on page 21, the winds are depicted as bodiless heads whose mouths are muffled by the four angels.) Others devote themselves to the adoration of God: "And all the angels stood round about the throne . . . and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God" (7:11). But most often they are instruments of destruction. The seven trumpet angels who appear after the opening of the seventh seal herald the second sequence of disasters: hail and fire rain down upon the earth, waters are turned to blood and poisonous wormwood, a burning mountain and a great star fall from the skies (a scene possibly inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79), huge locusts torment those without the protecting seal of God, a death-dealing cavalry of 200 million kills one-third of mankind with fire, smoke, and brimstone.
This sequence of disasters has provided potent inspiration for artists. In the image of the second trumpet in the
Saint-Sever Beams (see below)



The Second Angel Blows His Trumpet,
from Beatus of Liebana,
Commentary on the Apocalypse ( Saint-Sever Beams)


the wavy red band at center represents the one-third of the sea turned to blood; in the tapestry version (see below), which focuses on the shipwreck, the sea seems to bleed from a wound below the shattered boat. Note how carefully the images illustrate each detail of the text, as though by finding an exact visual equivalent the artist could reveal the meaning of the words.

The Second Trumpet: The Shipwreck,
The Apocalypse of Angers,
designed by LeanBondol and woven by Nicolas de Bataille, c.1373-81.


The seven trumpet angels are later followed by the seven plague angels, each of whom is given a golden vial filled with a specific disaster. (These vials—the original Greek word actually refers to a flat bowl—were portrayed by artists in shapes as narrow as test tubes or as flat as soup plates.) The emptying of the first vial inflicts painful sores on everyone who carries the mark of the beast. The contents of the second and third vials turn the seas, rivers, and fountains to blood. The miseries are multiplied with each vial until the seventh and final one is poured into the air, at which point a great voice says, "It is done."
Although the seven trumpet and the seven plague angels are the angels most frequently seen in Revelation images, others have been memorably depicted. The angel standing in the sun, who appears late in the text—after Babylon has fallen and Christ has arrived on his white horse—was painted by Joseph Mallord William Turner in a luminous image (see below) that captures the rush of whirling light and space at the end of time.


Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
The Angel Standing in the Sun
Tate Gallery, London


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
The Fall of the Damned
Alte Pinakothek, Munich



Arnie Swekel
Fallen Angel


Matthew D. Wilson
Fallen Angel



Todd Lockwood
Crypt Angel


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