Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Literal Truth: Popular Illustrators

John Martin, The Seventh Plague of Egypt

Gustave Dore, Moses Showing the Tablets of the Law, from his engraved illustrations to the Bible, 1865

To this day, these 2 immensely successful and popular illustrators from the 19th century continue to influence most people's visualizations of Biblical stories. John Martin (who spent his youth in Newcastle apprenticed to a carriage painter) was regularly panned by the critics, but a huge hit with the public. He specialized in big spectacular productions like the one illustrated at the top; God's Wrath never looked more colossal and stupendous than it did in Martin's work.
Martin built a whole career painting God's Wrath. Among his titles are The Feast of Belshazzar, The Destruction of Sodom, paintings based on the more spectacular parts of Dante's Inferno like Pandemonium. The Bronte sisters had an engraved copy of Martin's Belshazzar's Feast hanging in their parlor.
Dore illustrated many works of literature, but by far his most successful was his set of illustrations for the Bible. His illustrated Bible was a huge success in Europe, and a sell-out in the United States when it debuted at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1894.

These artists did not have much impact on the art of their day, or on later art. But, they had a huge impact on the movies. Cecil B. DeMille was an enthusiastic admirer of the work of John Martin, which should be a surprise to no one. Dore's illustrations influenced just about every Hollywood spectacle from DW Griffith's Intolerance to DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Through the movies, these illustrators continue to shape the popular religious imagination.

And let's end this post with a real bang. John Martin made this painting toward the end of his life, and he pulled out all the stops. Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey did nothing new.

John Martin, The Great Day of His Wrath


Jeremy Deveraturda said...

I just want to drop a note and say you have one of the most fascinating blogs I've (accidentally) stumbled across. Your dedication to art history is inspiring.

Counterlight said...

Thanks, and I hope I can keep you coming back.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Just like the old biblical movie spectaculars. Whoops! It's the other way around, isn't it?

What Jeremy says is absolutely right about your blog. Time constraints keep me away sometimes, but I love visiting here.