In this dynamic image, one of a series of lithographs published in book-form in 1946, Hans Feibusch (1898–1998) presents the moment of John’s prophetic inspiration. John devours the ‘little book’ of God’s word in the angel’s left hand. The energy in the angel’s posture evokes the Spirit-breathed inspiration John now receives. Having consumed this book, he will ‘again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings’ (Revelation 10:11). He is seated on a rock, resembling a chair or throne, symbol of the teaching authority he now possesses.
Many will know Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut of this scene in his 1498 Apocalypsis cum figuris, on which Feibusch draws. Yet Feibusch has made the subject his own, in light of his experience. A German Jewish artist who fled to England in May 1933 following Nazi denunciation of his work, his story mirrors that of his subject. Like John of Patmos, this John (Hans=Johannes) too has crossed a sea to his place of exile and inspiration. This New Testament image, produced in the aftermath of the Second World War, hints at that spiritual journey which would eventually lead Feibusch into the Church of England.
Does Feibusch regard the prophet John as a type of the inspired artist, as did so many of his artistic forbears (e.g. Botticelli, Duvet, Velázquez, even Dürer)? He suggests as much in words published in the same year as his Revelation lithographs, calling for a renewal of religious art to speak to those haunted by the horrors of war. Though his main subject is mural-painting, his words are equally apt for John’s Apocalypse:
Only the most profound, tragic, moving, sublime vision can redeem us. The voice of the Church should be heard loud over the thunderstorm; and the artist should be her mouthpiece, as of old (Feibusch 1946: 92).
Coke, David (ed.). 1995. Hans Feibusch: The Heat of Vision (London: Lund Humphries)
Feibusch, Hans. 1946. Mural Painting (London: Adam and Charles Black)
10 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, 3and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring; when he called out, the seven thunders sounded. 4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” 5And the angel whom I saw standing on sea and land lifted up his right hand to heaven 6and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there should be no more delay, 7but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets, should be fulfilled.
8 Then the voice which I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, “Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.” 10And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”