Ezekiel's Vision of the Wheel and the Four Living Creatures by Jost Amman after Melchior Bocksberger

Jost Amman, after Melchior Bocksberger

Ezekiel's Vision of the Wheel and the Four Living Creatures, 1564, Letterpress, woodcut on paper, 110 x 154 mm, The British Museum, London, 1895,0420.240, © The Trustees of the British Museum / Art Resource, NY

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out

‘Fire from between the Whirling Wheels’

Commentary by

The Neuwe Biblische Figuren is an early printed German Bible made up almost entirely of pictures. While many of the images are presented with short excerpts of text (four verses in Latin above and their German translation below), these function largely as marginal commentaries (Cramer 2005: 259). This format demands that the pictures tell the story where text is absent, requiring a high degree of detail in each.

To make the prints the artist, Jost Amman, carved the negative space from a woodblock which was then inked and printed onto paper. The resulting work has a linear dynamism, which Amman used to suggest the chaotic energy of the vision. Particularly striking are the finely incised rays of light that emanate from the enthroned God, the outward force of which is continued beyond the clouds in tongues of flame that lick forcefully down towards the earth. The cherubim below are captured in a swirling river of fire (Ezekiel 10:6–7), their wings spread to imply their movement.

The scene’s theatricality is further emphasized by the gestures of the human figures. As the group on the left look at one another in disbelief, Ezekiel, overwhelmed by the glory of God, has dropped to his knees in prayer. All of this together gives the viewer a sense of the frightening majesty of the vision, which in its first occurrence (in Ezekiel 1) even caused him to ‘fall upon his face’ (v.28).

While the other two works featured in this exhibition focus on a particular part of Ezekiel’s visionary experience, this print represents most of the book of Ezekiel and thus refers to details from other passages. Earlier in the book, God commands that Ezekiel eat his scroll so that he can ‘speak to the house of Israel’ (3:1). Here, Jost Amman shows the scroll flowing from a celestial hand into Ezekiel’s partially opened mouth.

In this world of airy energies, it is as if he is breathing in the words of God.

 

References

Cramer, Thomas. 2005. ‘From the World of God to the Emblem’, in Visual Culture in the German Middle Ages, ed. by Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel (Springer: New York), pp. 251–71