Quatrefoil19 Upper (Habakkuk), The Lord Forces the Prophet to Write of the Doom of Babylon by Unknown French artist

Unknown French artist

Quatrefoil19 Upper (Habakkuk), The Lord Forces the Prophet to Write of the Doom of Babylon, 13th century, Stone, Amiens Cathedral, West Facade, Photo: © Dr Stuart Whatling

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‘Make It Loud and Clear’

Commentary by

Quatrefoil 19 is situated under the buttress statue of Habakkuk in the west façade between the north and central porches of the High Gothic church of Amiens Cathedral. It depicts the prophet (seated) ready to receive a revelation from God, as recorded in Habakkuk 2:2. The prophet is about to write it down to make it available to those who must receive it and gain faith. They will be sustained by the prophet’s delivery of this message (2:4b).

God—depicted anthropomorphically—stands before the prophet in the quatrefoil and has a nimbus that signifies radiant divine glory. His hand is extended toward the prophet, conjuring the context of numinous communication. Seated like an ancient scribe, Habakkuk has the writing tablet on his lap, recalling a time before writing desks or tables were invented. His feet are resting on a footstool.

Christians and others of medieval and later times would have readily associated the standing divine figure with Christ. Christ is delivering his prophetic message to Habakkuk as though dictating his good news to a gospel writer. John Ruskin, the famous Victorian art critic, wrote forthrightly, ‘The prophet is writing on his tablet to Christ’s dictation’ (2008: 231).

Whereas the scene undoubtedly reproduces Habakkuk 2:2, which underscores the writing down of the vision of what God will ultimately do (2.3a), the scene captures the moment just before writing begins. We see the prophet giving full attention to the divine figure, seeking to grasp and comprehend the message before he writes it down for others. The prophet’s head is tilted, suggesting attentiveness. The relief recalls the declaration of the prophet who has just said, ‘I will keep watch to see what [the Lord] will say to me’ (2:1). At the ‘appointed time’ (2:3), God will grant the vision to the prophet who strains to hear God’s words.

 

References

Ruskin, John. 2008 [1881]. Our Fathers Have Told Us, Part I: The Bible of Amiens (Oxford: Benediction Classics)


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