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Saturday, April 04, 2009

John Martin

John Martin 1789-1854
The Last Judgement 1853
Oil on canvas 1968 x 3258 mm
The Tate Britain, London


IN his day John Martin drew larger crowds to exhibitions of his paintings than did Turner.

He was popular for his scenes of cataclysmic events crowded with tiny figures placed in vast architectural settings.

He caught the public imagination with spectacular paintings such as Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still (United Grand Lodge of Great Britain, London, 1816), the work that made him famous

Of one of his paintings, the eccentric, English dilettante, William Beckford wrote:

'I have been three times running to the exhibition ... to admire 'The Capture of Babylon' by Martin. He adds the greatest distinction to contemporary art. Oh, what a sublime thing.'

During the last four years of his life Martin was engaged upon a triptych of very large biblical subjects: The Last Judgment, The Great Day of His Wrath, and The Plains of Heaven.

This is the central painting of Martin’s three ‘judgement pictures’. It illustrates the main event in the book of Revelation. God sits enthroned in the heavens, surrounded by the four-and-twenty elders. At lower right the forces of evil, led by Satan, are defeated and tumble into a bottomless pit.To the left is Mount Zion, where the good, already in ‘the plains of heaven’, are waiting for their call to appear before the throne. Among them are numerous artists and poets. Martin published a chart to accompany the picture and identify them, as well as many of the evil characters