The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe

Andrew Cunningham, Author, Ole Peter Grell, Joint Author
Andrew Cunningham, Author, Ole Peter Grell, Joint Author Cambridge University Press $70 (374p) ISBN 978-0-521-46135-1
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 376 pages - 978-0-521-46701-8
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Albrecht D rer's famous woodcut of the four horsemen as described in the Book of Revelation has been studied at great length and from many angles. However, the authors of this new study make a significant contribution to the discussion by demonstrating that contemporary folk consciously used this particular image to better understand the troubles that beset them and to frame these crises in an intelligible and meaningful context. As Cunningham and Grell, of Cambridge University and the Open University, respectively, maintain, D rer's Four Horsemen informed the sense of apocalyptic dread that permeated European society from about 1490 until 1648, when the end of the 30 Years War brought about a more stabilized society that no longer used the Apocalypse as its defining paradigm. D rer, of course, was not the first artist to create an image of the Apocalypse. However, the authors argue compellingly that what made D rer's image resonate so strongly with his contemporaries (and with generations of artists afterward) was that it showed all of the horsemen arriving together, thus unifying the three horsemen representing the crises of war, famine, disease and death with the rider of the white horse, who represented Judgment Day, an event feared daily by the men and women of the Middle Ages. Unlike authors who approach medieval European history from various, discrete lenses (e.g., military history, social history, Reformation history), Cunningham and Grell aver that they offer a more comprehensive understanding of the medieval worldview. Their effort, following the lead of Norman Cohen's defining Pursuit of the Millennium, provides an enlightening and valuable contribution to the study of the role of eschatology in the early modern world that will hold much interest for students of that period. 71 illus. (Mar. 1)
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