The Flemish Apocalypse, The Marriage of the Lamb, Armageddon, and The Last Judgement (Rev. 19-20)

Unknown artist

Adoration of Christ; Wedding of the Lamb; Angel calling birds; Fight against the beast; The beast and the false prophet in the fire, from The Flemish Apocalypse (Apocalipsis in dietsch), 1401–1500, Illuminated manuscript, 340 x 250 mm, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris, MS Néerlandais 3, fol. 22r, Bibliothèque nationale de France ark:/12148/btv1b10532634z

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The Many Faces of Christ

Commentary by

The simultaneous style of visualization employed by this unknown Flemish artist not only evokes the deterministic nature of Revelation, but also helpfully allows the viewer to contemplate the different aspects of Jesus Christ that we are presented with in the text.

The dominant image of Christ found in Revelation is that of the Lamb. He is the archetype of passive resistance and of unlikely salvation, first introduced in Revelation 5 and recurring in Revelation 7, 14, and 21–22. The marriage of the Lamb to an ‘Israel’ here read as the Church is depicted in the top left-hand corner of the image. However, as in the central scene in this image, Christ also appears in Revelation 19 (and to an extent in Revelation 1:12–20) as a messianic warrior figure, trampling his victims underfoot. At other points in the text Christ and God use the same language to refer to themselves: ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, ‘the beginning and the end’ (Rev 1:8, 11; 21:6; 22:13), an indicator of Revelation’s very theocentric outlook whereby the distinctions between God the Father and God the Son often appear to have broken down.

No attempt is made by Revelation’s author to synthesize these varied aspects of Christ (that of victim, victor, and God) and broadly this is reflected in this image of the Lamb, God/Christ, and the Rider on the White Horse. The White Horse is more prominent in this image, due to the artist’s faithful adherence to the text but elsewhere in the series the Lamb is clearly the dominant figure. We, the viewer, are therefore left to puzzle over the inconsistences inherent in this trifold presentation of the Christ figure, inconsistencies that the author of Revelation and the Flemish artist were apparently untroubled by.

Meditating on this image could thus become an exercise in contemplating not only the scriptural text, but also the differences between our contemporary interpretative outlook (with our desire to impose rigorous consistency on text and images) and those of our forebears, who were seemingly content to allow the many faces of Christ to exist happily alongside each other.

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