The series is made with the use the technique of woodblock printing, or woodcuts.
Apocalypse (meaning ‘revelation’ in Ancient Greek) is the last book of the New Testament written in the second half of the 1st century AD. According to the Church tradition, its author was Saint John the Divine who, exiled to the Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, had a vision (a revelation) about the end of the world and the destiny of the humanity. The Apocalypse told about the second coming of Christ, about the Last Judgement when will be “judged every man according to their works”. The prophecies from the Apocalypse looked especially topical during the periods of wars, epidemics and bad harvests. Dürer’s cycle of woodcuts was created in the end of 15th century when Germany was shaken by peasant movements, religious quarrels and a plague.
The cycle made in 1496–1498 consists of fifteen woodcuts and a cover page. Each sheet carries Dürer’s monogram. During his lifetime, the cycle was published several times. First two editions in German and in Latin were published in 1498. The cover page initially was textual, without any pictures. All the impressions of the first edition were of good quality. In 1511, the artist made a new Latin edition, adding a woodcut picture on the cover page and including a strict prohibition to copy the series. The impressions of this edition are uneven, with tints of brown, the Latin text is written in a different way from the 1498 edition. The series is made on large wooden blocks; the text is on the other side of the print and does not always correspond to the image.
The cycle was destined for various strata of the society, from learned humanists to simple townsfolk. That is why the artistic language is easy to understand and the images are close to life. The Apocalypse has lots of vague hints at the end of the world but in Dürer’s depiction everything looks evident and topical. Almost every woodcut of the cycle carries the idea of fight and confrontation between the good and the evil, the light and the darkness.
Most sheets from the cycle preserved in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts are from the 1511 edition with Latin text on the other side of the sheet.
Circa 1496 – 1497
Sheet 7 from the series “The Apocalypse”