Text copyright © Oct 2, 2012 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner, All Rights Reserved
The world would come to an end according to the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. We saw the History Channel do years of “the Apocalypse is Coming” stories. We know the world didn’t end last winter but the idea of the Apocalypse has always been around in history.
People in Europe in the 1490’s were afraid of the same thing, that the world was coming to an end. Everyone was afraid of the Apocalypse.
The word Apocalypse, though, derives from the Greek word Apokalypsis, which means an uncovering, the revelation of something hidden, not a word that indicates the end of the world, so an Apocalypse would be a good thing, the Church just didn’t bother to tell anyone this detail.
WHICH APOCALYPSE? JEWISH OR CHRISTIAN?
The last book of the Christian New Testament is commonly referred to as The Apocalypse, when its real title is the Revelations of St. John. The actual text of Revelations is very much based on the Hebrew Book of Daniel, the Hebrew Book of Isaiah, and parts of the Hebrew book of Ezekiel, with Christian ideas imposed onto the prophecies made by these Jewish prophets.
The Christian version expounds on the destiny of the righteous, and a simultaneous resurrection and rapture of Christians, as the Messiah (in this case Jesus Christ) returns to save the world. The kingdom of God is re-established in Jerusalem. For more information about the Christian version of the Apocalypse see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse
What most people don’t realize is that artists through the centuries had often depicted the Apocalypse story. This is known as an “art cycle,” something that is published over and over again on a regular basis. The continuity of publishing Christian visual imagery repetitively is one of its most striking features. Christian art enforced dogma, and the familiarity of images was part of its power. Albrecht Dürer was far from the first artist to depict the Apocalypse but he was the most successful.
For more on the Apocalypse Tapestry, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_Tapestry
Dürer’s Apocalypse was the first book conceived, illustrated, and published by an artist himself. On the last page of the The Apocalypse appears this notice “Printed at Nuremberg by Albrecht Dürer, painter, after Christ’s birth the year 1498.” The text is printed sequentially on the back of the illustrations without interruption and without regard to the subjects it faces.
Latin at this time was the international language everyone spoke, like English has become today. In 1498, Dürer printed two versions of the book, one with Latin text on the back of the images and a title page printed in Latin, and one with a German title page printed in German text on the back. This was another first, the first time anyone had published a book like this in the native language of the artist. Publishing a Latin version allowed Dürer to sell internationally. The Apocalypse publication made him a celebrity by 1500 A. D.
- The two dfferent 1498 Apocalypse title pages. The top is the German text which says “the Secrets of St. John;” the bottom is the Latin title page which says “Apokalypsis with figures”
The Latin version was titled merely “Apokalypsis cum figuris,” The Apocalypse with Figures. The target market for this Latin version was the Church and the associated Latin schools. The German version was titled “The Secrets of St. John,” which is an entirely different slant from a marketing standpoint than the title used for the Latin. With the German version, Dürer was selling “secrets” to the masses of German speaking peoples, who at that time would include all of the Germanic parts of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and most of what is now considered Eastern Europe and possibly peoples of the Low Countries (Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg). The peoples of these German speaking areas, which was vast territory indeed, could finally read in their own native language, contributing immeasurably to increased literacy throughout Europe.
But why would Dürer be marketing “secrets” in the German version? Everyone loves to learn about secrets, it’s basic human nature. It really was a savvy marketing technique. Were there hidden codes in the German text? No. So where were the “secrets?” In the same 15 illustrations used for both versions, the secrets were in the pictures. And they were hiding in plain sight for over 500+ years.
He apparently didn’t want to tip off the Church authorities about the deceptions he was employing, so he used a title that was not disturbing for the Latin edition. But he definitely wanted the masses to be looking for his secrets!
Dürer only published 15 images to illustrate his book. What is not commonly known is that Dürer was required to pattern his images for the Apocalypse book from images that were used by his godfather, Anton Koberger, the biggest publisher in Germany at the time, which had previously been used in Koberger’s bibles. So, while Dürer had complete artistic license to re-envision these picture stories, he was only free to come up with six new images.
THE MARYTRDOM OF ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST.
We have to remember that Dürer took two years to create 15 woodcuts for the Apocalypse, when on the average the time to manufacture a woodblock, from the time of conception to cutting, was about 2 weeks. He was publishing engravings during this time period also. Why did it take him two years to publish?
One of these new images that Dürer included in the Apocalypse is called The Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist and this image is very strange indeed. It represents a myth about St. John that is totally outside of the Bible story of Revelations. Why would he include a legend only remotely connected with the Apocalypse of the Bible as one of the six new images?
Even stranger is how Dürer conceptualized this subject. He depicts an outside oriental bazaar presided over by a very large figure in oriental costume watching a naked man in a tub supposedly being cooked. Onlookers peer over the wall of this bazaar to watch the torture.
TORTURE OR NOT?
But if we carefully analyze what is going on in this image, we find some very odd things.
First, Dürer has included the Portuguese Water Dog in the composition that he’s used before to tell us there are “secrets” in “this print.” Please see my previous article “The Dogs of Dürer.”
Second, on the throne back itself, we find a clamshell symbol. This clamshell represented people who were pilgrims that had completed the “Camino de Santiago,” the pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostela, a very famous trip to make.
Third if we actually analyze the “movement” of the guy “fanning” the flames, we find that the bellows is collapsed, and therefore the bellows is not fanning the flames under the tub, despite the depiction of the flames growing. Also, we don’t really see any liquid in the tub at all. The only thing that seems to represent liquid of some type is the tear (water? Could it be oil?) falling down the shoulder of “John.”
Fourth, there is one woman and ten men, in all sorts of dress, depicting their occupations that overlook the scene. Why ten men? And one woman?
What this image really is about is a very specific person who lived in Nuremberg. He was identified with the clamshell of Santiago del Compostela, and he was known to dress up as an oriental potentate in Nuremberg. His name was Eustachius Rieter, he was the richest man in Nuremberg, and the Rieter family had many secrets about Eustachius that they certainly wished to hide. Dürer had other plans.
We begin to see that Dürer’s Apocalypse would uncover many secrets. Stay tuned for more on the Apocalypse!
BUY THE BOOK! CRIMES IN THE ART: THE SECRET CIPHER OF ALBRECHT DÜRER