Like modern television producers, sixteenth-century Antwerp print makers were fond of stories that could be serialized. Serial subjects, such as the Four Seasons, the Five Senses, or the Seven Deadly Sins, guaranteed income from a market of collectors wont to covet the complete set.
It is no surprise, then, that print makers Maerten de Vos (1532–1603) and his engraver Adriaen Collaert (c.1560–1618) seized upon Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, with its attractive connotation of a chronological succession of four great empires known from biblical and classical history.
Their series of four engravings portrays Ninus as the founder of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus as the founder of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great as the founder of the Greek Empire, and Julius Caesar as the founder of the Roman Empire. Each ruler is on horseback carrying a banner, with rulers two to four (Cyrus, Alexander, and Julius Caesar) trampling the preceding defeated empire beneath them. Each appears against a backdrop with, on one side, a magnificent city, representing their empire and, on the other, one of the beasts from Daniel’s vision, emerging from the sea.
The image selected here is the third from the series, representing Alexander the Great. The Greek conqueror rides his favourite horse, Bucephalus; the artists show themselves aware of the meaning of the animal’s name, ‘bovine head’, rendering the horse with a distinctly cow-like face. To the left, we see the third of Daniel’s monsters, the leopard with four wings and four heads (clever exegesis linked the number four to the fact that Alexander’s empire was divided into four parts after his death). The city that represents Alexander’s empire on the right is built on hills and dominated by a great domed church; it seems to owe more to how the print makers may have envisaged Rome rather than to authentic Hellenistic architecture. Undoubtedly, however, collectors eagerly gathering the series would have taken delight in the wealth of detail that is on display.
Ann Diels, Ann. 2005/06The Collaert Dynasty, The New Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Woodcuts, and Engravings 1450–1700, Ouderkerk aan den Ijssel (Sound & Vision Publishers)
7In the first year of Belshazʹzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, and told the sum of the matter. 2Daniel said, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 4The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand upon two feet like a man; and the mind of a man was given to it. 5And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side; it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh.’ 6After this I looked, and lo, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back; and the beast had four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrible and dreadful and exceedingly strong; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots; and behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.
15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious and the visions of my head alarmed me. 16I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me, and made known to me the interpretation of the things. 17‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. 18But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, for ever and ever.’
19 “Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrible, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze; and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; 20and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up and before which three of them fell, the horn which had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and which seemed greater than its fellows. 21As I looked, this horn made war with the saints, and prevailed over them, 22until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints received the kingdom.
23 “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast,
there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth,
which shall be different from all the kingdoms,
and it shall devour the whole earth,
and trample it down, and break it to pieces.
24As for the ten horns,
out of this kingdom
ten kings shall arise,
and another shall arise after them;
he shall be different from the former ones,
and shall put down three kings.
25He shall speak words against the Most High,
and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
for a time, two times, and half a time.
26But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.
27And the kingdom and the dominion
and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
28 “Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed; but I kept the matter in my mind.”