The Last Judgment, 1849–53, by John Martin. Oil on canvas. 77½ x 128 inches. The Tate Gallery, London (Public Domain). Click on image to enlarge it.
This epic vision is the central panel of a triptych that opens with The Plains of Heaven and closes with ">The Great Death of His Wrath, a scheme reassembled in the Tate Gallery in 1974. Martin’s design recalls the many Italian Renaissance and Flemish paintings of the subject; it was engraved in 1856 and in this form became a favourite with the public. The painting presents the orthodox iconography of the Old Testament, with Christ surrounded by angels and the avenging angel wielding the sword of judgment; on the left are the Righteous (a cast including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Newton), while on the right are the Damned (a weird combination of the Whore of Babylon and sundry lawyers and churchmen, some of them the artist’s enemies). Spectacularly large, animated by febrile movement and projected in a garish palette and bright light, the picture embodies all of Martin’s most characteristic devices. He evokes the Sublime by emphasising contrasts of vast scale and smallness, with the foreground literally tearing apart; Jehovah’s signature, a zagged lightning strike, figures to the left, and there is a disconcerting disjuncture between the detail of the faces and the obscurity of the collapsing landscape. Physically overwhelming, the image veers between the boldly Romantic and crass overstatement: visual hyperbole at its most pronounced.
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Tate Gallery, London, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Image capture by Simon Cooke
Created 23 August 2021