The Second Angel Announces the Fall of Babylon, no.50 from The Apocalypse of Angers by Nicolas Bataille

Nicolas Bataille

The Second Angel Announces the Fall of Babylon, no.50 from The Apocalypse of Angers, 1373–87, Tapestry, Musée des Tapisseries, Angers, France, Musee des Tapisseries, Angers, France / Bridgeman Images

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Destroyed from Within

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This tapestry was made in the late fourteenth century in France and is part of a series, known as the Angers Apocalypse tapestries, depicting the book of Revelation. This one shows John’s vision of the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:1–3).

An angel from heaven emerges from the clouds to make his announcement that Babylon has fallen (Revelation 18:2; also 14:8). Medieval viewers would have understood the long ribbon-like banderole that the angel holds to signify that the angel is speaking to John. John stands at left, slightly separated from the scene, looking on at the judgement which unfolds as though watching a stage drama.

The broken buildings of the fallen city are in a heap in the centre of the tapestry. It has not been destroyed by a warring army, but by corruption from within (18:3, 5, 7, 23b–24). So the buildings of the city crumble in on themselves. Babylon implodes because the greed of city rulers produced poor governance and lack of care for its physical structures; because those with power preferred to live in luxury, rather than care for their city.

The chaotic arrangement of the broken buildings contrasts with the regular pattern of the wheat that forms the background of this image. Not only is the wheat orderly, but it is ripe and ready to harvest, recalling the Harvest of the Wheat in Revelation 14:14–16. That too is an episode of accountability and triumph in the larger cosmic battle that plays out through the narrative of Revelation.

The Babylon of history (sharing its name in Hebrew with the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11) was both a city and an empire. The Neo-Babylonians, at the height of their power, conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and forced most of the kingdom of Judah’s population into exile. The texts of the Hebrew Bible associate this event with devastation and intense sorrow. The visionary Babylon of Revelation 18 is thus not only a place haunted by different forms of evil; it recalls a specific and great harm done to the people of God.

Today, the tapestry invites us to consider that corruption and decline of individuals and communities are not always initiated by external forces. Greed corrupts us internally, leaving little care or concern for our communities. Such greed begets deception and violence, which in turn destroy faith and trust.

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