White Horse: And I Saw Heaven Opened (Panel 13) by Irene Barberis

Irene Barberis

White Horse: And I Saw Heaven Opened (Panel 13) part of The Tapestry of Light, 2017, Tapestry, 304 x 408 cm, On a world tour, © Irene Barberis

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The Unstoppable White Horse

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Natasha O’Hear

In this fluorescent re-envisioning of the fourteenth-century Angers Apocalypse Tapestry, the Rider on the White Horse is given a prominent role. Or to be more precise, the White Horse is prominent and the Rider himself is a more ephemeral figure.

The fourteen-panelled tapestry from which this image is taken (the only known rendering of an entire Apocalypse cycle by a woman) involves the viewer in a multi-sensory experience. As well as encountering the tapestry in a variety of states (via a rotating sequence of ambient light, UV light, and darkness), the viewer is presented with a multi-layered interpretation of Revelation via motifs from many different historical visualizations of the text, as well as from Irene Barberis’s own oeuvre.

Panel 13 is no exception.

Here we see a huge rendering of the White Horse beckoned forth by Sandro Botticelli’s Gabriel (bottom right) and followed by the archangel Michael (Revelation 12). The Rider’s presence is captured solely by his pointing hand (to the left of the Horse’s back) and the blood dripping down the Horse (a reference to Revelation 19:13). Perhaps there is a sense in which the male Rider of Revelation 19 has been unseated or rendered obsolete by the female creator of this series.

While the militaristic male Rider no longer speaks to many of Revelation’s readers, the Horse remains a symbol to which a wide audience can attach hopes and expectations. Thus the vast Horse steps out onto tiny tanks, military jeeps, parachutists: a miniature Armageddon. It is as if they are being swept towards the Hell-Mouth motif in the bottom left-hand corner of the image (taken from the Angers Apocalypse Tapestry).

The texts of the relevant chapters of Revelation are written above the image and when the tapestry is seen in darkness the words glow with phosphorescent light. This is presented as the moment when the heavenly breaks through into the earthly realm, thus ushering in the countdown to the establishment of the New Jerusalem. The comparatively huge White Horse is presented as an irresistible force, flanked by angels, against which human military might is powerless.