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Apocalypse

lamb seven visions century

The Apocalpyse (from Greek: “unveiling”), or Book of Revelation, is the last book of the New Testament and is traditionally ascribed to Saint John, writing in exile on the island of Patmos in the late first century A.D. The twenty-two chapters contain, in complex symbolic language, exhortations for believers to remain steadfast even in the face of persecutions, phrased Page 19  in the form of vivid descriptions of the author’s visions of the end of the world, the battles between good and evil, the *Last Judgment, Second Coming of *Christ, and triumphal appearance of the *Heavenly Jerusalem. Difficult to interpret, the Apocalypse provided rich materials for commentary by many medieval theologians and a wealth of subject matter found in all (especially western) medieval art media, both in narrative cycles, and as isolated motifs.


The text begins with a voice directing John to convey his visions to the SEVEN CHURCHES of Asia Minor, usually represented in art as *angels. John sees a vision of “one like unto the Son of Man” enthroned and radiant, in the midst of seven stars and seven candlesticks. As the visions unfold, four beasts (see: * and the *Twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse appear, singing and praising *God. This theme was an especially popular subject for church facades and interiors from the early Christian through Gothic periods. The Lamb appears in their midst, providing the awesome image of the ADORATION OF THE LAMB .This subject is frequently depicted as a grand composition with a great crowd kneeling down before the sacrifical lamb elevated on an altar, or, in simpler versions, the theme is abbreviated to include simply the lamb and altar. The lamb goes on to open the SEVEN SEALS on a book (sometimes depicted as seven sealed scrolls); after each seal is opened, cataclysmic events ensue, including the appearance of the FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (Conquest, War, Famine, and *Death, riding on, respectively, a white, red, black, and “pale” horse, carrying, in order, a bow, sword, and scales; death is accompanied by *Hades).


Earthquakes rumble, the sun turns black, the moon turns to blood, the heavens roll up, more angels appear, human-headed locusts and two especially horrific great beasts arrive (the first with multiple heads and horns), and battles rage. The WOMAN CLOTHED WITH THE SUN , wearing a crown of stars and standing on the moon, gives birth to a male child and both escape from a dragon. The luxuriantly dressed WHORE OF BABYLON , sitting upon a scarlet, multiheaded beast, appears, and the sinful city of Babylon burns. Death and *hell are thrown into the lake of fire and the Last Judgment is enacted with God enthroned. This event is often depicted as the WEIGHING OF THE SOULS with an angel (Michael) balancing *souls in a pair of scales; *demons await to carry off the damned; angels escort the saved to *heaven. The visions conclude with the appearance of the *Heavenly Jerusalem, described as a radiant, jeweled city with twelve gates, the abode of the lamb and all the blessed.


In spite of the multiple complexities of the text, or perhaps because of the extreme detail with which the visions are described, scenes from the Apocalypse appear with great frequency in early Christian mosaics, Romanesque and Gothic wall paintings, architectural sculpture, stained glass, in other media such as tapestry (the fourteenth-century series at Angers), and in illuminated manuscripts (notably the Spanish productions of Beatus’s Commentary and the thirteenth-century “Anglo-Norman” cycle; a ninth-century Carolingian manuscript at Trier


  may be a copy of the earliest illustrated Apocalypse of c.500). The biblical text of the Apocalypse also provided inspiration for several other medieval visionary texts and illustration cycles

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