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Albrecht Dürer - Angel fight

by Julia Kynast

Albrecht Dürer's (1441-1528) version of the Apocalypse is a theme that has preoccupied researchers for centuries and has lost none of its relevance to the present day. The cycle of paintings was created at a time in the 15th century when, on the one hand, people were marked by uprisings, plague epidemics and the constant danger from the East, but on the other hand, they were also grappling with the progressive ideas of humanism as well as the first Reformation thoughts, which, fueled by the invention of printing at the beginning of the 16th century, had gained in importance. 

The Angel Battle is the seventh of a total of fifteen graphic sheets by Dürer, which he published in book form in 1498. In addition to the woodcuts, the work also contains the Revelation texts of St. John described in the New Testament. Here the artist illustrates this text pictorially and further embellishes individual passages. He elaborates on the saint's somber visions and his divine prophecy of a heavenly Jerusalem.

The 396 x 288 mm large, vertical format woodcut is divided into two parts: an earthly and a heavenly part. In the center of the lower, the earthly part of the picture rages a terrible judgment. Here four colossal angels dominate, which can be identified as Euphrates angels. With angry faces, their long swords raised to strike, they stand, aligned in all four directions, above the people writhing beneath them. In doing so, they spare neither king nor pope. In their overpowering appearance, the angels project into the heavenly realm of the picture. Between them, the outlines of a city can be made out, and above their heads, six knights on mystical mythical creatures approach horizontally from the left, galloping out of a cloud cover. Their destination does not seem clearly discernible to the viewer. Above this scenery, God the Father is enthroned in the center, framed by a halo, above a richly decorated altar. He holds four trumpets in his hands and is flanked on either side by two angelic figures. The angel to his right blows another trombone. The celestial figures are surrounded by a loose cloud formation. Dürer's monogram is centered at the bottom of the painting.

The ninth chapter of the Revelation text is assigned to the angel fight. In this it is written that the sixth angel blew his trumpet, whereupon a voice sounded from the four corners of the golden altar before God. This is said to have called upon him to release the four angels who were bound to the great river Euphrates. Because just these should be ready at any time to slay the third part of mankind, in order to purge the world of their committed crimes.

Albrecht Dürer - Angel fight

Woodcut, ca. 1496, 397 x 286 mm, Städel Museum in Munich


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