The Deluge

The Deluge by John Martin (1806-70). 1834. OOil on canvas, 66 x 102 inches. [A plate from Images of Crisis (1982).]

Commentary by George P. Landow

This painting of Noah's flood is one of several that he did on the subject of floods destroying guilty human being, including The Delivery of Israel out of Eygpt (1825), The Destruction of Pharoah's Host (1830), Sodom and Gomorrah (1832), and The Destruction of Tyre (1840). In all he uses the the same vortex composition found in The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum (c. 1821). Of course, he also uses the same composition in The Creation of Light, his illustration for Milton's Paradise Lost.

Like God s drowning the Egyptian host in the Red Sea, the Deluge offers a definite, unmistakable instance of divine punishment, and the ark that preserved Noah and his family offers a similarly unmistakable image of divine protection. This connection between preserving the good and destroying the evil provides a structure that recurs frequently in biblical history. As Patrick Fairbairn, the great nineteenth-century student of hermeneutics, explains in The Typology of Scripture,

This principle of salvation with destruction, which found such a striking exemplification in the deluge, has been continually appearing anew in the history of God s dealings among men. It appeared, for example, at the period of Israel's redemption from Egypt, when a way of escape was opened for the people of God by the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host; and again at the end of the return from Babylon, when the destruction of the enemy and the oppressor broke asunder the bands with which the children of the covenant were held captive. But it is in New Testament times, and in collection with the work of Christ, that the higher manifestation of the principle appears. . . . In Christ, however, the very foundations of evil from the first were struck at, and nothing is left for a second beginning to the cause of iniquity. ["Noah and the Deluge"] — adapted from Images of Crisis, chapter 3.

References

Feaver, William. The Art of John Martin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975.

Landow, George P. Images of Crisis: Literary Iconology, 1750 to the Present. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982


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