Woodcut series: The Revelation of St John (Apocalypse) (1497-98)
by Albrecht DÜRER

Apocalypse comes from Greek meaning an `unveiling'. The faith of the early Christians, living under persecution, was sustained by the expectation of Christ's imminent second coming. This found literary expression in the Revelation of John, written at the end of the first century A.D., an allegory foretelling the destruction of the wicked, the overthrow of Satan and the establishment of Christ's kingdom on earth, the `New Jerusalem'. It followed the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic writing going back to Daniel in the 2nd century B.C., in which was foreseen the deliverance of Israel from her oppressors by a sudden act of the divine will, and from which the author of the Revelation borrowed much of his imagery. Popular belief, for which there is no historical evidence, identified the writer whose name was John with John the Evangelist, and he is so represented in apocalyptic themes. Though the author is alluding to the contemporary condition of Christians under the Roman empire, succeeding ages placed their own interpretation on the allegory. Thus the figure of the Beast, or Antichrist, which stands for the pagan emperor (either Nero or Domitian both of whom caused the blood of many martyrs to flow), came to symbolize Islam to crusading Christians; to Catholics at the time of the Reformation it stood for Protestant heresy, while Lutherans made it a symbol of the corrupt papacy. The sequence of fantastic images with their often obscure symbolism - the author's `visions' - forms a loose cycle of themes that are found in religious art from the time of the Carolingian renaissance. They are seen in illuminated manuscripts, in the sculpture, stained glass and frescoes of churches, and in engravings and tapestries.

The greatest printmaking achievement of Dürer's early years was The Apocalypse, a set of 15 woodcuts on the revelations of St John. Telling the story of the end of the world and the coming of the Kingdom of God, this series of large prints displays great imagination and power. The famous series influenced the later treatment of the subject in northern Europe, especially France.

The Apocalypse was an immediate success. The terrifying, visions of the horrors of doomsday, and of the signs and portents preceding it, had never before been visualized with such force and power. There is little doubt that Dürer's imagination, and the interest of the public, fed on the general discontent with the institutions of the Church which was rife in Germany towards the end of the Middle Ages, and was finally to break out in Luther's Reformation. To Dürer and his public, the weird visions of the apocalyptic events had acquired something like topical interest, for there were many who expected these prophecies to come true within their lifetime.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 8 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: St. Matthew Passion BWV 244 (excerpts)


Preview Picture Data File Info Comment
The Revelation of St John: Title page to the edition of 1498
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*946
Grayscale
85 Kb



The Revelation of St John: Title page to the second Latin Edition of 1511
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*1015
Grayscale
119 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 1. The Martyrdom of St John the Evangelist
1497-98
Woodcut, 395 x 282 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*906
Grayscale
156 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 2. St John's Vision of Christ and the Seven Candlesticks
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*917
Grayscale
142 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 3. St John and the Twenty-four Elders in Heaven
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*913
Grayscale
179 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 4. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse
1497-98
Woodcut, 399 x 286 mm
Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*900
Grayscale
156 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 5. Opening the Fifth and Sixth Seals
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*877
Grayscale
166 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 6. Four Angels Staying the Winds and Signing the Chosen
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*888
Grayscale
161 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 7. The Seven Trumpets Are Given to the Angels
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*899
Grayscale
177 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 8. The Battle of the Angels
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*898
Grayscale
168 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 9. St John Devours the Book
1497-98
Woodcut, 398 x 289 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*892
Grayscale
156 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 10. The Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Seven-headed Dragon)
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*898
Grayscale
168 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 11. St Michael Fighting the Dragon
1498
Woodcut, 392 x 283 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*889
Grayscale
171 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 12. The Sea Monster and the Beast with the Lamb's Horn
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*893
Grayscale
161 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 13. The Adoration of the Lamb and the Hymn of the Chosen
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*894
Grayscale
170 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 14. The Whore of Babylon
1497-98
Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*901
Grayscale
176 Kb



The Revelation of St John: 15. The Angel with the Key to the Bottomless Pit
1497-98
Woodcut, 398 x 286 mm
Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe

650*895
Grayscale
171 Kb




Summary of woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer
1489-1500 | 1501-10 | 1511-20| 1521-28
Apocalypse (1497-98)
The Large Passion (1497-1500)
Life of the Virgin (1511)
The Small Passion (1511)
The Triumphal Arch (1515)
graphic works | paintings