It was the End of Days, or so it seemed.
1494, the artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) travelled to Italy where he remained until the spring of 1495. He moved south to avoid the plague that was devastating his home city of Nuremberg. He spent most of his year in Italy studying and painting, inspired by the light, colours and landscape. This was a brighter world compared to the dark of the north.
But even in the light, there was dread, fear, and superstition.
The rise of the neighbouring Ottoman Empire instilled a terror of the Turks. For many Christians, this fear had merged with a belief the coming millennium 1500 would see the end of the world as foretold in Saint John’s Book of Revelation. This Apocalypse would not see the rise of an Anti-Christ but the Ottoman Empire invading and enslaving Christian Europe.
In Venice, Dürer started work on a series of woodcuts depicting the Apocalypse. He met with the artist Gentile Bellini who described his visit to the Court of Mehmed II, and discussed the customs and culture of the Ottomans. Bellini’s descriptions inspired Dürer to depict the evil forces of the Apocalypse as Turks.
In 1495, Dürer returned to Nuremberg. He continued working on his woodcuts. Carved in pear wood, Dürer produced fifteen woodcuts. He published these in a book with accompanying text from the Book of Revelation.
Published in 1498, Apocalypse with Pictures (Apocalipsis cum figuris) established Dürer as a leading artist. Noticeably, Dürer eschewed traditional imagery of skeletons as Death with more realistic images of people and landscape. In particular, reinforcing the idea the Turks were about to invade Europe. It was propaganda. A warning to the lax Christians to protect their faith. It also reinforced the idea the image was more important than the word. The book became a best-seller.
H/T Monster Brains.
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