Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




"Which Was, and Which Is, and Which Is to Come"

The end of the world and an artwork for posterity


And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each one of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying. Holy, holy, holy. Lord God Almighty, which was, and which is, and which is to come.

The Revelation of Saint John the Divine (4:7-8)



The Long Hall in Trinity College, Dublin, where the Book of Kells can be marvelled today



Around AD 1000, the troops of Emperor Otto were surprised by an eclipse of the sun. These fearless warriors were terrified and thought that Armageddon — the end of the world — had come; they climbed into barrels and hid under carts. Calculations and prophesies setting a date for the end of the world has long been a fixation: Christopher Columbus predicted it would happen in 1647, and the French astrologer Nostradamus (1503—1566) spoke of a "King of Terrors" who would come down from heaven in the year 1999. Just as no man knows the hour of his death, so too is the end of the world a mystery: ''The Lord of that servant shall come in a day, when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of ... ", according to the Gospel of Matthew (24: 50).

Though precisely when the last hour will be is not clear in the Bible, how it will happen is vividly described. St John the Divine writes in the book of Revelation that, at the end of time, God will come into the world and pronounce judgement upon mankind. His throne will be flanked by the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse: man, lion, bull and eagle. These beings are also interpreted as symbols of the earthly Creation, which is traditionally signified by the number four; hence the four elements, the four seasons and the four corners of the earth. The New Testament, which tells of the "new covenant" between God and man, opens with the gospels of the four Evangelists that form the majority of this work. Each Evangelist is represented by one of the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse: Matthew by the man, Mark by the lion, Luke by the bull and John by the eagle.

In reference to this evangelistic and apocalyptic imagery, these four beings appear in the Book of Kells. An illuminated manuscript from the eighth or ninth century, this work contains the four Gospels together with magnificently painted illustrations and intricate embellishments with a mix of geometric and zoomorphic forms. The Book of Kells represents the climax of Irish manuscript illumination, an art influenced by the work of both the Celts and the Germanic peoples. A priceless legacy of the early Middle Ages, it is considered a supreme achievement of Western civilisation. It was probably created from around 800, but where it was made still remains a mystery: probably from a monastery library at Kells (sixty-five kilometres northwest of Dublin), in Northumbria, or perhaps even in eastern Scotland. This book is perceived as a "sacred relic of art", and so exquisite that it was once believed to be the work of angels. The first mention of the Book of Kells was in 1007, when it is recorded stolen — "impiously by night" — but, after "twenty nights and two months", it miraculously reappeared having been hidden underneath a small piece of turf.


Man, Lion, Bull and Eagle
с. 800
From the
Book of Kells
Illuminated manuscript
Trinity College, Dublin


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