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)





And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

Revelation 6:4



holds a closed book, or scroll, fastened shut by seven seals. After a "strong angel" proclaimed that no one was worthy to open the seals and read the book, John "wept much." One of the twenty-four elders consoles him with the news that Christ will open the book, at which point a lamb with seven eyes and seven horns appears, bloody with wounds sustained either in battle or from having been killed as a sacrifice. After the elders and the beasts sing his praises, the lamb opens the first seal and releases a crowned rider on a white horse.


Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Death on a Pale Horse
Detroit Institute of Arts


Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Death on a Pale Horse


Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Death on a Pale Horse
London, Royal Academy of Art


Benjamin West (1738-1820)
The Destruction of the Bestand the False Prophet


 Interpreters have proposed contradictory meanings for this first rider. Some, including Billy Graham (in Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), have identified him with Antichrist and the devil's deceit; others have said that he represents the Messiah. In the Middle Ages, the accepted reading was that the rider represented Christ, and his white steed, the church. The next three riders have become familiar figures in art: sword-wielding War, on a red horse; Famine, carrying scales to measure prohibitively expensive food, on a black horse; and skeletal Death, on a pale (or sickly green) horse.

War (see below - Henri Rousseau "War") is foppishly decked out in full armor and an emblazoned tabard. John stands at left, with the leonine holy beast who called out to him as the horseman appeared, "Come and see."


Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris


William Blake (1757-1827)
Death on a Pale Horse

William Blake created an urgent image of the fourth horseman, in which every whiplash of a line contributes to the effect of speed; the angel above Death rolls heaven up like a scroll.

As each of the four horsemen is released by the opening of a seal, he gallops out into the world to wreak his own variant of disaster. Once they have all been unleashed, the opening of the seals continues. The fifth reveals the souls of the martyrs who reside under the altar, waiting to be avenged for their suffering; they are given white robes and told that they must wait a bit longer. The opening of the sixth seal turns the moon to blood, a scene vividly illustrated by the Baptist preacher and "outsider" artist Howard Finster
(see below)
, who often annotates his paintings with scripturar quotations.


Howard Finster (b.1916)
Find the Four Horses of the Revelation


After an earthquake shakes the land, stars plummet to earth, and heaven rolls itself up, the destruction is momentarily suspended. Angels move among the people, marking the foreheads of the 144,000 "servants of God" so that they will be spared the next catastrophe. Only then is the seventh seal opened, followed by "silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (8:1)—such a short and remarkably specific interval that it gives particular immediacy to this account The seven trumpet angels appear, one of whom casts fire from the altar down upon the earth, at which point "there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake" (8:5). It is then that the angel sounds the first trumpet and the next round of disasters begins.


Roger Brown (b. 1941)
The Final Arbiter


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