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Picturing the Apocalypse | The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millenia

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Euro exit apocalyptic for Greece! ‘Streaming Wars’ and coming free music apocalypse! … Zombie apocalypse in housing market, next financial apocalypse fuelled by public sector debt! … Asteroid apocalypse spells end of the world in September 2015! Global warming Apocalypse in Georgia with floods and wild animals on the streets! … The modern Horsemen of the Apocalypse (‘global poverty, mass migrations, pandemic disease, climate change and political instability’) roam through the world unchecked …

These apocalyptic warnings are all culled from news stories appearing over the last fortnight. Our fascination with the Apocalypse, its Four Horsemen and Armageddon, continues to colour our thinking in so many areas.

But have you ever stopped to wonder where these notions come from? And what about the Millennium, the Antichrist, the Whore of Babylon, the New Jerusalem?

These terms all come from the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. They have been explored, exploited and visualized over two millennia. But what do they really mean and how has their meaning shifted with the centuries? In Picturing the Apocalypse Natasha and Anthony O’Hear demonstrate the dynamic power of this incendiary book with the help of 120 illustrations ranging from the ninth century to 2015.

But they also show that, contrary to received opinion, Revelation is a book offering hope and redemption alongside the messy destruction.

Apocalypse now: Our incessant desire to picture the end of the world

CNN Blog Post
  •  "Deliciously prescient [...] An engrossing, delightful and ultimately uplifting read"

     
    Nicole BarkerThe Spectator
  • "Natasha and Anthony O'Hear have produced a fascinating book on how the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation has figured in the Arts for 2,000 years."

    The Church of England Newspaper
  • "A sharp, absorbing and generously illustrated guide on how the last and strangest book in the Bible has fired the artistic and musical imagination of humanity in the past 2,000 years"

    Diarmaid MacCullochThe TImes
  • "[An] extraordinary book."

    Jane O'GradyTimes Higher Education
  • "A beautiful - and affordable - book."

    Herman SelderhuisReformatorisch Dagblad
  • "This study of the Book of Revelation in the Arts over two millennium is a true blast to the modern mind and imagination."

    Steve CraggsNorthern Echo
  • " Despite the complexity of the primary material (both literary and visual) the authors avoid convoluted ramblings and the text is highly readable."

    Chloë ReddawayArt and Christianity
  • "An almost breathless tour d'horizon."

    Andrew HammondThe Times Literary Supplement
  • "... a stimulating treatment of a complex subject ... thoroughly recommended."

    C.M. KauffmannBurlington Magazine

SerifThe Book of Revelation has been a source of continual fascination for nearly two thousand years. Concepts such as The Lamb of God, the Four Horsemen, Armageddon, the Millennium, the Last Judgement, and the ubiquitous angels of the Apocalypse have captured the popular imagination.

One can hardly open a newspaper or click on a news site without reading about impending financial or climate-change Armageddon, while the concept of the Four Horsemen pervades popular music, gaming, and satire. Yet few people know much about either the basic meaning or original context of these concepts or the multiplicity of different ways in which they have been interpreted by visual artists in particular. The visual history of this most widely illustrated of all the biblical books deserves greater attention.

Apocalypse and The Hunger Games

OUP Blog Post

This book fills these gaps in a striking and original way by means of ten concise thematic chapters which explain the origins of these concepts from the book of Revelation in an accessible way. These explanations are aug- mented and developed via a carefully selected sample of the ways in which the concepts have been treated by artists through the centuries. The 120 visual examples are drawn from a wide range of time periods and media including the ninth-century TrierApocalypse, thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman Apocalypse Manuscripts such as the Lambeth and Trinity Apocalypses, the fourteenth-century Angers Apocalypse Tapestry, fifteenth-century Apocalypse altarpieces by Van Eyck and Memling, Dürer and Cranach’s sixteenth-century Apocalypse woodcuts, and more recently a range of works by William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, Max Beckmann, as well as film posters and stills, cartoons, and children’s book illustrations. The final chapter demonstrates the continuing resonance of all the themes in contemporary religious, political, and popular thinking, while throughout the book a contrast will be drawn between those readers of Revelation who have seen it in terms of earthly revolutions in the here and now, and those who have adopted a more spiritual, otherworldly approach.

‘Revelation, the Bible’s one visionary book, is often dismissed either as a fantasy for fundamentalists or as a literary and theological aberration. In this erudite and endlessly fascinating book, Natasha and Anthony O’Hear show that it is in fact one of the great books of the world, a rich source of imagery, metaphor, and moral insight that has inspired artists and thinkers of every age; and should inspire everybody with its message of gentle resistance to malign power.’

Bryan Appleyard

‘Natasha and Anthony O’Hear are to be congratulated for their book on Revelation, which takes as its starting point its central theme — its visionary claim. It offers a very necessary reminder that the visual character of this remarkable text can often be best communicated through art, music, and poetry, which they illustrate so well. Not only does it introduce us to the ways in which this apocalyptic text has stimulated some of the most dramatic and inspired paintings down the centuries, but it also helps us get some sense of why this book has grasped the imagination of readers past and present. It is based on the best modern scholarship and presents Revelation to the general reader, primarily through the riches of the art it has inspired. Readers will find much here to treasure which will encourage further reflection.’

Christopher Rowland

“The Apocalypse is the glorious conclusion to the story of our redemption, or the moment when the Bible soars off into sci-fi: take your pick. The O’Hears, father and daughter, trace the extraordinary imaginative impact of the last book of the Bible on visual artists. While exploring the dynamic power of this final book of Scripture they take us on an exciting journey, from Dürer to D. H. Lawrence and from Memling to Ingmar Bergman. Apocalypse is a text which yields so many interpretations that it is bound to be puzzling, but this gentle, artistic book is a tribute to the visionary of Patmos’ abiding power to inspire.”

A. N. Wilson

 

About the Authors

Anthony O’Hear is Professor of Philosophy at Buckingham University and Director of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. He has been a government advisor on education to five secretaries of state for education. He has been editor of the journal Philosophy since 1995, and is the author of many books and articles including The Great Books: From The Iliad and The Odyssey to Goethe’s Faust: A Journey Through 2,500 Years of the West’s Classic Literature (Icon Books, 2007), Plato’s Children (Gibson Square, 2005), and Philosophy in the New Century (Continuum, 2001).

Natasha O’Hear specializes in artistic interpretations of the book of Revelation. She completed a PhD on the subject at Oxford University in 2008 and this led to her first monograph with OUP in 2011, Contrasting Images of the Book of Revelation in Late Medieval and Early Modern Art: A Case Study in Visual Exegesis. She has also published several articles on the subject. Having formerly held a lecture- ship in New Testament Theology at Worcester College, Oxford, she now teaches at Burlington Danes Academy in West London.