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 Rider on the White Horse

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Natasha O’Hear

This striking image brings traditional elements from the visual history of the Rider on the White Horse of Revelation 19 together in a ground-breaking composition.

Hitherto, the narrative of Revelation 19 (the marriage of the Lamb, the descent of the Rider on the White Horse, and the defeat of the Beasts) had been depicted across three separate images. The Flemish Apocalypse devotes just one image to each chapter of Revelation. Each image thus includes several ‘scenes’. Here the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) to ‘Israel’ takes place in the upper left of the composition (Revelation 19:6–10). The Rider on the White Horse (also Christ in a different guise) adopts a prominent position in the middle register, waging war against the Beast and his army (19:11–19). Christ then returns in the lower register to pursue the Beast and his followers into the hell-mouth, an iconographic shorthand for the ‘lake of fire’ (19:20). John the seer appears to the left of the middle register, gently led by an angel towards these final visions.

This visualization of the Rider is noteworthy for its attention to the detail of the text. The Flemish Apocalypse is known for its use of a striking metallic white paint and this is used to full effect here on both the ‘white horse’ of the Rider and his robe. The robe is streaked with the blood of Revelation 19:13. In keeping with Revelation 19:12, his eyes are flaming and he wears a prominent crown of many diadems. In a visually awkward detail, his sword is held between his lips (19:15, 21; cf. Revelation 1:16).

Condensing the three main narrative blocks of Revelation 19 into one visual space gives this visualization of the closing stages of Revelation an energy and an immediacy lacking in earlier medieval manuscripts. The viewer is swept up into the visual drama unfolding across the three registers, an exciting and unstoppable precursor to the final destruction of Satan/the Dragon and the establishment of the New Jerusalem. This ‘simultaneous’ style of visualization (where what was, is, and will be are shown together) creates a powerful sense of inevitability.