Text copyright © July 16, 2013 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner, All Rights Reserved
The Apocalypse grips everyone’s mind and the sounding of the Seven Trumpets is one of the most action packed parts of the story of Revelations. Let’s look at Dürer’s depiction of the Seven Trumpets.
WHAT KIND OF TRUMPETS?
The actual type of trumpet that would have been blown in ancient Israel and in the story of Revelations would have been the ram’s horn, what is known in Hebrew as the shofar. It was blown since Moses’ day (Ex. 19:13) as a way to signal, get the Israelite’s attention or warn of a message coming from God
Joshua used the shofar trumpet to bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down.
What Dürer depicts in his composition of the Seven Trumpets is actually the French buisine, or Herald’s trumpet, which was 1-2 meters long.
To hear what this Herald’s trumpet sounded like, please listen at this link:
The sounding of the Seven Trumpets is described in Revelation 8:6-13.
But we have to remember that the bible we read today is vastly different than the bible versions available in medieval times. Altogether there are 13 medieval German translations before the Luther bible. In 1466, Johannes Mentelin published the first printed bible in the German language, the Mentelin Bible, one of the first printed books in the German language and also the first printed vernacular Bible. The Mentelin Bible was reprinted in the southern German region a further thirteen times by various printers up until the Luther bible. About 1475 Günther Zainer of Augsburg printed an illustrated German edition of the Bible, with a second edition in 1477. Dürer ’s godfather, Anton Koberger, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Koberger, made his fortune printing bibles.
SO WHAT’S THE STORY?
The first trumpet causes hail and fire that destroys much of the plant life in the world (Revelation 8:7). The second trumpet brings about what seems to be a meteor hitting the oceans and causing the death of much of the world’s sea life (Revelation 8:8-9). The third trumpet is similar to the second, except it affects the world’s lakes and rivers instead of the oceans (Revelation 8:10-11). The fourth of the seven trumpets causes the sun and moon to be darkened (Revelation 8:12).
Before the fifth trumpet sounds, an eagle appears, flying upwards in mid-heaven, and warns, “Woe, woe, woe, to those who dwell on the earth,” because the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound. Martin Luther changed the eagle to angel in his bible. The flying eagle introducing these trumpets reminds us of Hosea’s warnings to Israel: “Set the trumpet to thy mouth. He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law” (Hosea 8:1; Deuteronomy 28:49). We can assume that by 1496 or 1497, when Dürer made this famous image, his bible version indicated an eagle and not an angel.
The fifth trumpet results in a plague of “demonic locusts” that attack and torture humanity (Revelation 9:1-11). The sixth trumpet releases a demonic army that kills a third of humanity (Revelation 9:12-21). The seventh trumpet calls forth the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Revelation 11:15-19, 15:1-8).
WHAT’S REALLY THERE?
It is amazing to see Dürer ’s genius in how he managed to combine so much action into one print. It is the most crowded composition of all the Apocalypse prints and thought to be one of the earliest woodblocks made (circa 1496). Most of the details derive from the Quentell bible woodblock representation known as the Trumpet Vision, printed in Cologne in 1480, so Dürer would have had to have access to this Quentell image, probably from his godfather, Anton Koberger.
DÜRER ’S SECRETS
Dürer hid a number of secrets in plain sight. There are three compositional elements added to Dürer ’s version that had never been there before: the sun, the moon, and the hands, which hold the rock being thrown into the sea. All of these elements are secret codes hidden in plain sight. The actual positioning of the moon is one key clue, about Jewish timekeeping, especially lunar timekeeping. However this is such a complicated subject, I will point you in the right direction if you chose to investigate this in more depth, starting at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14813-week
I have yet to decipher all that is going on with the hands of God throwing the mountain into the sea and what is depicted is a very strangely shaped mountain, which in some ways resembles a medieval money pouch. I invite all of you to try and figure out what this symbol is really telling us.
We also have a very strange clue in the hair of God in the upper center of the print. Cleverly hidden in the hair but to the side is an “I5” or an “IJ” or a “J5” or a “JS” yet to be deciphered as to its meaning. Here’s your chance to make a mark in art history: decode what the symbols in the hair of God means.
OOPS, IT’S NOT AN EAGLE!
But the clearest clue hidden in plain sight is the eagle-which is NOT an eagle. First of all, the eagle, according to the storyline, is supposed to be swooping upwards in the sky, Dürer has the bird swoop down.
Secondly, it’s not an eagle, and we know this by the shape of the tail feathers. Bird tail feathers are used for giving signals or messages to other birds and Dürer ’s bird gives us a message. An eagle’s tail is not forked like the bird Dürer depicts as we can see in this picture.
So what kind of bird is this with a forked tail? It’s what’s known as a European kite or goshawk. And in Hungary, the land of Dürer ’s ancestry, the goshawk was known as the Turul, a very important mythic image. It was the great bird resembling a falcon that was sent forth by Isten to guide the creation and destiny of the Magyar people. The first Hungarian kings after St Stephen I were the hereditary of the Turul (“Turul nemzetség”)
For more on the Hungarian Turul, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turul
WHAT’S THE REAL SECRET?
So why was Dürer putting a Turul in the middle of Seven Trumpets? He was giving us some sort of Hungarian message and some sort of Jewish message. Feel free to leave your answers as comments.
More to come.
BUY THE BOOK! CRIMES IN THE ART: THE SECRET CIPHER OF ALBRECHT DÜRER