Lecture 10, Handwriting on the Wall: John Martin's Belshazzar's Feast (1820)Apr 26, 2023
Three weeks ago we were talking about this painting at the British Art Center The death of Lucrezia by the Scottish artist Gavin Hamilton an authentic milestone of neoclassical great drama and pathos Life-size figures simply charged with moral fervor The painting we are going to talk about today hangs at about ten paces away it is also full of fervor and ambitious but in very different ways it is also much smaller it is only about four feet wide let's look at it a bit the picture shows the palace of Belshazzar the king of Babylon and it is the climactic episode of his life for that episode.
I am going to read to you what his first audience in 1821 was able to read part of the Old Testament book of Daniel in the King James version, taken from a pamphlet written by the organizer of an exhibition, no doubt in collaboration with the artist, which was sold to visitors to the painting Belshazzar the king made a great banquet for a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand Belshazzar while he tasted the wine ordered to bring the gold and silver vessels that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple that was in Jerusalem for the king and his princes and their wives and their concubines could drink in it they drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver bronze iron wood and stone in at the same time the fingers of a man's hand came out and wrote on the candles on the plaster on the
wallof the king's palace and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote and then the countenance of the king changed and his thoughts troubled him so much.
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lecture 10 handwriting on the wall john martin s belshazzar s feast 1820...
As their loin joints came loose and their knees knocked against each other, the king cried out in a loud voice to bring the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, and the king said that anyone who reads this scripture and shows me its interpretation , he will be dressed in scarlet and will have a gold necklace around his neck and he will be the third ruler in the kingdom then all the wise kings entered but they could not read the writing or make the king's note of the interpretation of it then the queen said there is a man named Daniel, whom King Nebuchadnezzar your father made a teacher of musicians and Chaldean astrologers and soothsayers now call Daniel and he will show the interpretation then Daniel was called to interpret the writing on the
walland this was her interpretation main to man a tickle wolf they look this is the interpretation of the main thing God has counted your kingdom and finished it take Oh you are weighed in the scales and found wanting who seen my kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and the persians on that night
belshazzarthe king of the chaldeans was killed the episode took place while the israelites were captives in Babylon the story is about the pride that goes before a fall the sinful pride of the Babylonian kings the predecessor of Belshazzar Nebuchadnezzar had not only taken the Jews captive and led them back to Babylon but had also looted the Temple in Jerusalem and taken the holy vessels as booty and not just the vessels here but as seen in Martin's rendering anyway and the menorah also Belshazzar aggravates the sin that has brought the vessels and he and his courtiers eat and drink from them in an act of blasphemy the Israelite prophet Daniel who is the author and the hero of the story writes that he was called to the summit for interpreting God's words foretelling the destruction of the king and his empire Martin envisions the palace and Babylon within it as an immense colonnaded courtyard and beyond, beyond three enormous cantilevered arches, another great hall with long tables above and beyond there are more terraced buildings and a stepped tower, a ziggurat next to it, it's an even bigger round tower, the The Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens are also up there in the dark there to the right to the left is a storm with lightning and clouds swirling around the towers hanging in the sky are the moon and a planet conjunct all signaling a major event everyone is reacting to that fiery message from Messel on the wall or the prophecy from Daniel the pamphlet I mentioned Sold to Visitors Describes Bill Shazzer The King's awe is powerfully wrought in the interesting but scornful features of his face Horror seems to be mixed there with strong sense and spiteful wickedness The huge golden throne stands prophetically empty in the foreground bearded men in long robes point towards the bright light acting amazed several of them have a huge scroll with which they are trying to understand the meaning of the hebrew words but they are not failing no one can hide from the light you see that general panic and the courtyard hundreds of ant-sized figures some of which on the far right here of this slide are making burnt offerings to the colossal golden statue of an armored man wrapped in a serpent this is Marduk the chief deity of Babylon in the middle of a head table it is set with tremendous gold and silver vessels from Jerusalem but dinner has been interrupted before it began people make prayer gestures and listen to Daniel the pamphlet says about Daniel a captive on the banks of the Euphrates lived apart from society and , however, well known at the Babylonian court, he is here more appropriately represented as an elderly man with that surly appearance which never quite abandons the countenance of an exile.
He is the main character in the drama the pamphlet goes on about the group of which he is a leading figure assuming the pyramidal shape now becomes the focus of interest and from a pictorial point of view this part of the performance gets all the effect the artist could to have foreseen in the warmest hope of his enthusiastic mind well, who exactly was John Martin the man with the enthusiastic mind and why a special booklet to explain and praise his image Belshazzar's party was a great success with the public and not only Not immediately in 1821 but for many years afterward, Martin brought to life a moment of high drama from a famous Bible story, inventing an exciting setting for it, grand and painstakingly detailed, adding special effects.
I'll get back to Martin's career, but for now I just want to stay with the painting for a few minutes and its role in the history of narrative painting and a visual spectacle. Martin first painted a larger version of this composition and exhibited it at the British institution. in 1821 it attracted so many visitors that barriers were put up in front of it and it was decided to extend the duration of the program by a couple of weeks and one of the critics called the picture glorious and another said that Martin should be elected to the Royal Academy at once .
The directors of the Institute awarded Martin a prize of £200 which they could afford. as they had obtained an additional thousand pounds from the extra admission fees brought in by Belshazzar and the sale of pamphlets. The artists who wrote about the image had mixed opinions. Most of them felt a combination of admiration and resistance. It made more noise among the masses than any painting that has been shown since I came here. However, artists and connoisseurs did not like it very much. pounds a certain William Collins who had plans for him as soon as the show was over.
Collins took it to his premises in The Strand and exhibited it along with another Old Testament image of Martin that had been a great success a few years earlier. joshua ordering the son to stop and so collins sent the pictures to scotland in 1822 with the claim that they had already been seen by a thousand people and after that the tour began in earnest to take this to Liverpool Dublin back to Edinburgh and from Glasgow to Bristol and in almost every major city in the British Isles, that pamphlet ended up going through 45 editions. Attendance for the first four years was high due to hype and word of mouth and a few years later it got a boost from reproduction sales when Martin published this not-so-tiny large print.
Collins was not very pleased, he tried to sue the painter for infringement of rights as owner, but Martin had not actually used the large version of Collins and said that he had used one of the two smaller versions he painted thinking of reproducing the one he now one at Yale that we've been looking at and the other one at Hartford, both very accurate. Martin had learned to make magnificent engravings using completely new technology steel plates. Plate plates that were durable and guaranteed. that many hundreds of copies could be made from them without much loss of quality Belshazzar's party tour and printing were only the beginning of the image's commercial life Martin made a second plate and sold 400 more copies then passed to a printer that he was still printing and selling it even after Martin's death in 1854 we know of three other authorized versions and then there are a lot of clumsy scams like this at the top and there were other versions that are interesting from a new types point of view entertainment and media I just want to say a few words about what we now call 18th century new media which were big attractions in London one of them at the top being the Preveo Kong and by the painter philip de luthor brewer who who opened in Leicester Square in 1781, paid the entrance fee and saw what were advertised as moving pictures depicting natural phenomena, such as storms at sea, but what moved were parts of the scene, various flat pieces silhouetted with waves and boats and so forth moving up and down or back and forth and the lights were changing all the time downstairs is the famous I dome a tropical s of 18 2 of Thomas curtain is businessmen were very good at naming things and make up with you impressive titles for them The Greek names were the sign particularly of science at work even though I do Fujiko and it simply meant nature picture the one at the bottom here the metropolis I do was a 30 foot panorama long plus a 360 degree view of London as you paid to get in it surrounded you when you got in the middle as you looked at it turned around has been destroyed like the I do Lucic in but some of Gert's studios survived and that's what we're seeing on the screen painted panoramas like this multiplied all over Europe and America in the 19th century, John Martin seems to have been eager for the chance for his images to entertain an audience that would not have come to the Royal Academy.
A large painted copy of his Belshazzar party was shown beginning in 1833 in a diorama in Queen's Bazaar in Oxford Street a diorama is an even newer type of visual entertainment where a translucent painting was shown here you sat on the right here under a A kind of marquee facing the image while the lights were manipulated Making the image change and appear to move as you view dioramas has been popular since 1823 when the first was built in Paris by Louis Daguerre, the set designer and painter and later inventor of the photograph, note the man here in the distance top right hand corner this is the diorama built in London in the same year in the Queen's Bazaar Belshazzar's party was shown in a double feature with another image and billed as York Minster on fire It preserves an object that gives an idea of the visual sensation that the translucent image Belshazzar's Feast produced this painting at top left on glass by the specialist duo of Hoadley and Oldfield they made at least four more copies of various paintings by Martyn the Newspapers carried the news that one of these glass paintings had been purchased by the Duke of Northumberland and another from an anonymous American speaking of Americans.
All manner of other versions of the Belshazzar were exhibited in this country, including one in a diorama on North Street in Manhattan, and his prints sold here in large numbers for many years. color printing issued by the Leighton brothers just after the Civil War being common, you can find them in guest rooms and closets all over New England. You can check these exhibitions in Great Britain. they seeded stories announcing the imminent opening, dates, times, admission fees, etc., and then, as closing day approached, more ads with breathless warnings about the last chance to see these sensational masterpieces. tell us that John Martin is as you see the painter of Belshazzar's party and also that these are the most sublime and extraordinary paintings in the world valued at eight thousand guineas and that they measure 13 by 10 feet and that they have been inspected by upwards of two million of people the exhibits were open at night thanks to Gaslight which started as street lighting this is messed up on the top left and recently moved indoors and was now in theaters and other public places.
Gaslight was strong and bright and must have made the images of Martin seem even more vivid and scenic than in daylight our candlelight was more important let night openings mean workers could come not just leisure people and they came they did well they have not given me any idea of the phenomenal success of Belshazzar's party and some of its context in show business. I need to introduce John Martin, a critic from 1834 whogave Martin's work a bad review. I wrote that he was, and I quote, the universally most popular painter of the time. He had a lot in common with Edward. bulwer-lytton his contemporary his younger his the author of The Last Days of Pompeii and other best-selling historical fiction books bulwer-lytton knew Martin and wrote that he was the greatest, highest and most original genius of his time.
Martin's rise to fame is another 19th century fable about the ambition of hard work and social mobility, unlike Bulwer-Lytton, who was born well and educated in Cambridge. Martin was born into poverty in a country house in Northumberland. in the industrial north near Newcastle and the Scottish border. Martin received very little formal education and was sent to work for a carriage painter and received instruction in side drawing then moved to London in 1860 eking out a living working for a porcelain manufacturer painting mainly landscape decorations and teaching drawing on the side nothing had prepared the London audience for the first painting that Martin showed at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1812 under the title sadaq in search of the waters of oblivion an exotic subject treated in suitably extravagant style the here setec is sent by the sultan to find and bring back the so called waters of oblivion which the sultan says will get a duck's wife out of prison and there is the lone hero clinging to a rocky ledge and he gets up needing to cross this lake to the mountain on fire where the waters meet this painting says six feet tall of a diminutive figure in a loincloth on a fantastical errand struggling upwards in a hot jagged hostile world evidently made quite an impression on the audience one reviewer wrote that the artist communicates with a large part of its energy the romantic ideas of its author, the subject would have a form that would offer a sublime treatment by the hand of mr.
Turner Turner, who had already shown the way to Martin Turner, was 14 years older and had been extremely successful when Martin came to London. He had shown this image at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1800 the fifth plague of Egypt which was the epidemic sent by Yahweh that killed all the pharaohs animals with a fancy Egyptian or Egypt or City Mountains and a turbulent sky filled of imminent death this was Turner's first fully romantic theme and Turner was able to learn from it Martin also learned from Turner example how to make a living from recorded reproductions of his images, indeed these beautiful encounters as tense after Turner as that of the right were from Martin's older brother, Charles, who made it his business the same year that Martin showed his sadok.
Turner sent this to the Royal Academy an even more turbulent and hostile setting for a story of Hannibal's heroic persistence Turner set a precedent for this kind of lurid historical masterpiece and the success of it created a dream for Martin as a painter and printmaker. I must point out that Turner did not paint out of pure feeling or pure observation, I mean that, like every artist, he had inherited a wealth of images and ideas from previous art and would have liked very much to recognize where his taste for remote and dangerous places came from. . like the stormy Alps, it came largely from images ultimately of a 17th-century Salvator Rosa landscape showing harsh places with jagged rocks broken trees torrential water storm-laden clouds populated by reclusive types like hermits doing penance and bandits hiding their loot in caves around 1700, writers began using a term borrowed from classical rhetoric sublime to describe this type of landscape and the feelings of awe and even fear you might experience looking at it because sublime often referred to the Alps and other rugged places far from civilization where you could have very different sensations to the quiet comfort they got from the bucolic landscapes that they distinguished as beautiful, you could find the sublime at home.
Some of Martin's contemporaries were drawn to places of truly frightening grandeur in Britain and they did large paintings to overwhelm the viewer this is a place in the North Yorkshire Dales I called goredale scar and the painting is about eleven feet high painted by James Ward around the time of Martin's Arabian Nights Zadok fantasy with a similar type of seething and ominous clouds These distinctions between sublime and beautiful had been explored 50 years earlier by Edmund Burke, who saw them as the sublime and the beautiful as opposites as antithetical. It is definitely the sublime that John Martin strives for not only in the extremes of nature but also in the extremes of human aspirations.
Martin's The next triumph was this great painting that he saw a moment before. Joshua commanding the Sun to stand still over Gibeon. One reviewer wrote about this. A most amazing picture. Four design magnitudes and four details. accumulation of the great in nature and art for we are in the image of Turner Hannibal and his men weathered an alpine snowstorm here Joshua calls upon the great Jehovah to hurl hail at the enemy army and even to hold back the sun for day long and give the Israelites time to mop up the Canaanite army Martin imagines Gibeon here the Canaanite city in the upper right as a stupendous complex of vaulted and colonnaded buildings the real Gibeon was a Bronze Age fortress made of mud brick but Martin makes it a glorious capital city like his Babylon, if it doesn't look like reality it looks like something else, however, and those are the architectural fantasies of this artist Joseph Gandhi, a sloppy English painter and architect who made renderings for the great architect John Soane at the bottom you can see a project of some for a triumphal bridge and at the top an idea of Gandhi's own invention the palace of Satan at the time of Milton Paradise Lost which milton called pandemonium Martin he elaborated on it for his view of Gibeon and Martin here Martin used his visionary architecture profusely henceforth as you saw at Delcious Fest and in the process continues the tradition of imagining building schemes with a utopian flavor that emerged during the time of the revolution in France and, for example, these boule dream schemes on the top left a library for France at the bottom a museum and a Hall of Fame and on the top right and for its contemporary make of a cemetery in an ideal city all buildings of stupendous scale geometric perfection and impossible engineering the writing on the wall predicted death and loss of his empire to the medes and persians as you heard but we don't actually see this happen
martinhe took the next big step in his career and actually envisioned destruction on a scale no one had ever seen.
These are the paintings. that Martin is best known today many of Martin's viewers had seen paintings like the one on the left here of the recent eruptions of Vesuvius painted by Joseph Wright of Derby as a generation before Martin which made it wonderful and terrifying and there were paintings of the heroic historical eruption of ad 79 that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum and what it might have been like for its desperate victims like Pierre only devadasi n's on screen in 1822 Martin painted the entire ancient disaster according to an eyewitness account much younger to see
martin's new photo you didn't go to the royal academy or the british brown institution but you went along piccadilly to the egyptian hall this was a commercial storefront on piccadilly with a variety of high and low rides a couple of years ago for a shilling now you could have seen the raft of Jericho's Medusa brand new at the Paris salon or against a scenic backdrop a couple of years later you could have seen a family of Lapps from Norway who had bought They brought a reindeer with them so their son could go for a sleigh ride, sort of a short sleigh ride Martin's painting aimed at the gut you get the beautiful horror of the eruption the sky darkening the Sun hiding behind colored clouds blood red huge waves crashing the roman fleet is also full of poignant detail the crowds of refugees struggling to climb to higher ground the soldiers trying to protect their wives and children from the hot ashes right of center far behind is the naval commander and great naturalist Pliny the Elder was his much younger nephew who wrote that his uncle had sailed into the bay to watch the spectacle and landed near stubby where he was overcome by poisonous gas from the mountain and died and Maarten shows him collapsing in the arms of his friend Pomponio meets Martin the formula is familiar from Belshazzar's
feasta gripping drama great accuracy in presenting things and people his audience has heard of but like Martin himself I have never seen with Pompeii, it is a spectacle caused not by God but by nature that kills it uncontrollably and it is popular entertainment it was irresistible about 50,000 people saw it in the Egyptian Hall, so the claim went anyway and got good reviews in the press.
I will only cite one. it is a powerful speech for the imagination and on a subject that allowed the artist to enjoy. the foolish attitude of his conceptions the horror of the scene is made all the greater by the destruction of shipping and receding a turmoil of the sea the utter helplessness of man is shown in various ineffectual efforts on the part of human beings striving in vain to escape of the general calamity sir. Martin has added it to the historians' record of the catastrophe that realized all the horror that the most vivid fantasy could paint.
George Martin was getting credit for being both horrible and correct a dozen years later. Martin's friend, bulwer-lytton, published his novel last days. of Pompeii and its heroine Lydia nidia I should say that it displaced the image of Martin as the defining popular image of the event thanks mainly to this marble sculpture somewhat based on the book carved by Randolph Rogers this is Nydia the blind slave who fortunately had excellent hearing who led others through the darkness to safety since the time of the destruction of Pompeii for about 12 years Martin was busy with other projects including etching he became so adept at mezzo tint technique that he He contracted to produce two dozen illustrations for Paradise Lost and another smaller format game, then began keeping the proceeds doing the printing at home, publishing print versions of his most popular paintings, and releasing a series of large prints illustrating the Bible. , mostly original compositions or reworkings of previous ones. the emphasis, I must say, was on catastrophe and this became Martin's common divine retribution for human sin in all its forms, having enriched himself from the sale of paintings and prints, Martin spent much of his time over the next few ten years designing civil engineering projects he proposed a sewage system and a water purification project from the top sewage sludge would be collected and sent out of the city as fertilizer he also proposed a railway around the city linking its main attractions the population of London tripled in Martin's lifetime, making housing and sanitation conditions appalling for large numbers of people and Martin's schemes which he proposed to be privately funded would have certainly improved lives, but Parliament refused to agree and they came to nothing before we belch answers again. the most ambitious works of Martin's career that take us to the end of his life each of these trio of paintings has a stupendous image of destruction in the center this one you know is across the road at the British Art Center is about the flood in Genesis starting with the deluge itself, this version of the scene is dated 1834, which is very close, we think to the original from 1826 which has been lost, you see in the picture that Martin not only shows rising waters, shows a big storm an earthquake in which nothing is stable anymore, people are forced out onto this sloping rock platform, some in the foreground are trying to climb, while in the distance, large crowds on the edge, you are about to be hit by this tsunami that is rolling towards them. the sun almost takes it out but it illuminates the tiny tiny ark that is perched on a ledge just below it and the moon illuminates the collapse of the mountain itself which will fall in a moment the painting is hard to describe now hard to make out on the screen and even more difficult is sometimes in the original, fortunately we have the help of Martin's large engraving from 1828 which allows us to see, among other things, the cave on the right where people have fled for shelter and the huge crowds in the distance awaiting its doom this painting didn't actually get any particular attention at the royal academy and didn't sell it was shipped to france and exhibited in the 1835 cell where it got a gold medal and lots of good press and some not so good the critic Theo field Gucci toand described a unanimous chorus of praise from the visitors one person shouted oh what an admirable talent biblical talent a couple of apocalyptic etc etc goichi admired Martin's prints but until now said he hadn't seen his paintings and gave his opinion of the deluge that was fabulously bad all that Cataclysm and the crowd scene was something new in deluge images I have to point out that these go back to the Italian Renaissance including Michelangelo and almost invariably use some figures or a family group to express the pathos of death close to every person on earth, both the innocent and the sinners, this is Nicola Pusa, he does it in his famous image of 1664, and so does Turner, who provides more of everything, more figures, more rain, more wind and growing. waters but nothing compared to Martin's epic image of nature gone mad later Martin added to the deluge companion pieces one is the title the eve of the deluge painted for Prince Albert where the prophets gather here on a small cliff and foretell the coming punishment of humanity the other is called the stilling of the waters now in the San Francisco Museum the view is from the top of Mount Ararat the top that is almost covered by water that we have to imagine as an elevation of thousands and thousands feet and there is a white dubbing picking up the olive branch that he will deliver to the Ark somewhere in the gradually receding ocean one last catastrophe, literally, the last one is at the end of the world Martin makes a picture from the words of the Apocalypse of Saint John on what is called the great day of his wrath the title of the picture when the sixth seal is opened and there is an earthquake and the sun turns black and the moon turns red and every mountainous island is dislodged and all the mighty of the earth hide in caves is a vision of disorder that is literally and maniacally accurate in all its details in the usual pamphlet Martin says that the main and great characteristic of these productions is that they tend to inspire religious sentiment and instill desire of living morally and doing right church groups and school groups were brought into this show to be edified like the flood this one had a before and after the Last Judgment up here and the plains of heaven below all three ended in 1853 and left on tour along with the usual brochure Glasgow and Edinburgh first then a long tour of provincial towns thanks to the railways which had vastly expanded their network in the last ten years it was reported that after two years of travel photography of Martin he had had more of two million visitors and then the tour moved on to more cities that had bid for the privilege in 1857 they came to New York accompanied by great wads of print reproductions at least one sophisticated critic saw something a bit comical and it was all paid for pay-arrangements per-view as well as manipulators perhaps in the paintings themselves this article appeared in Harper's monthly magazine the fun is indescribable up two flights of stairs and gradually through the darkening gloom of Bay's thick tapestries approaching the penet R'lyeh of mysteries green fleece with a large picture on each of its three sides and on the fourth a pensive clerk to take his little name for his little subscription the gas is pouring all its glow upon the pictures in all these paintings there is a certain kind of power but it is still a false force like rhetoric they will surely make fools stare but they are all barbaric and savage performances after all in 1861 it was said that 8 million people had seen these images and even counting on some exaggeration and this must have been the most successful touring exhibition of contemporary art in history this enthusiastic response was not simply the result of publicity it came from popular beliefs and an opportunistic game on them Judgment Final looks for example shows contemporary people among those here on the left those on trial the lineup of those saved here includes well-behaved historical figures, many of them British and among the condemned on the right at the bottom is conspicuously a king and a pope there are other topical details there like a railway train in the background that is falling off a cliff and the message is that the current vices of false belief and materialism are about to be punished.
Many radical preachers in the lay fervently believed in what has been called millennial ISM that there is a pattern as told in the book of Revelation. that greed and corruption accumulate in thousand-year cycles and that God's kingdom on earth would certainly come to an end; there is no evidence that Martin himself was expecting the apocalypse, but the expectations had seeped through to many of his audiences and Martin and his promoters were well aware of this and took advantage of it 150 years later. We're so used to apocalyptic vision served up with special effects like Roland Emmerich's in the film four years ago that it's hard to imagine the excitement for Martin. audience of a huge vivid image of the world coming to an end before his eyes.
I would like to go back from the end of the world to the seventh century and Mesopotamia and ask how Martin came to this subject and his grandiose treatment of it, but first ask how common the theme of Belshazzar's
feasthas been in art history the The answer is not very common and there is this one from 1733 seventeen sorry this one from 1635 by Rembrandt the painting that was in England at the time of Martin in the collection of the Earl of Derby and it is likely that Martin knew it in the original or in a huge Oh tenth that his brother had made, but the idea is different, this one is about the reaction of Kings who rises and turns into an astonishment that he has been at the table feasting on the treasure of the temple. which REM Barret imagines as the most elegant type of contemporary Dutch silver flips vessels with one arm and rejects the vision with the other is cropped and there is no prophet Daniel there to foretell his fate just the guilty potentate and the flaming letters spelling out his destination the other treatments that Martin knew were by his contemporaries the American painters Benjamin West and Washington Alston now West's painting is at the top he will remember if he was here three
lectures ago that West emigrated from Pennsylvania and was court painter to George the Third and one of the most famous living artists all were at the bottom was a friend of martins from boston and trained at the royal academy with west west shows puzzled scholars right with his scrolls the surprised king and his courtiers and the venerable prophet who was a broad gesture connects the words the words on the wall and the king the stage is confined and the fact that it is a banquet is simply signaled by the presence of silver in the background Allston practically takes over the composition of West adding a queen and more passers-by a more mysterious lighting scheme and nice touches like the far left menorah's extinguished flame as a candle sconce behind the doomed King Martin takes elements of these neoclassical stagings and pushes them aside your The eye has to travel around the image to take them in and resolve relationships on its own.
Most important is the conception of the setting for Rembrandt and Wes and Austin. The event was indoors almost intimate in the palace but focused on Belle Chasse her state of encouragement as an emblem of his downfall Martin places the actors in a public space in an extravagant space that expresses the height of material ambition let me say a few things about the image of Babylon that you have already seen sone classical architecture fantasies and Gandhi that fueled Martin's imagination, but when it came to actually depicting Babylon, Martin didn't have much to go on other than earlier etchings much earlier, all based on descriptions by Herodotus and other ancient writers like this on the lower left designed by Martin de Ames Kerik in the 16th century and the other on the right at the top this muscies double page by Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher both artists giving great importance to the building here the wizard monkey the ziggurat which inspired the biblical legend Travelers from the Tower of Babel voyages to Mesopotamia were beginning to find the actual places mentioned in the Bible, which was a great search throughout the 19th century and adventurer Claudius J.
Rich, a contemporary of Martin, had just publish an account of his stay in Babylon and his attempt to identify the impressive mounds he saw on the Euphrates in order to identify them with the texts of the new Old Testament archaeologists get excited about the mounds but as you can see there was no standing architecture that could inspire the image of Martin and then there are the crowds in Martin's paint and in many other Metso paints and tints large numbers of the saved and the damned of Pompeians and Assyrians anonymous victims of the deluge these crowds could be said to be crowd pleasers helped make the Martin's name and build his audience and put him in sync with another fan a popular phenomenon in England at the time I mean concerts with huge orchestras and choirs that after mid-century were given in new halls built expressly to hold many thousands of listeners, including the growing number of lower and middle class entries. buyers who were drawn to shows like Handel's oratorios, often on Biblical themes rearranged for large forces. this is where a little later the annual Handel festival could have an orchestra numbering 500 and take on several thousand voices as the newspaper cliché said this was heaven on earth the same rich industrial northern cities as Liverpool whose citizens attended for thousands to see the latest paintings by
johnmartin when they toured the city these citizens built new concert halls of unprecedented size like st.
George's Hall and Liverpool a building worthy even of Martin's imagination the climax of this development of John Martin's gigantism is the Royal Albert Hall opened in 1871 by Prince Albert's widow, Queen Victoria, a kind of indoor coliseum with seats for over five thousand and this is where I'm pretty sure the inspiration for the Albert Hall came from Martin's incredible image of Satan enthroned in a hall with curved terraces and what look like boxes from a graduation concert at the Royal AlbertHall. you can probably get to be in one of
johnmartin's pictures specifically john martin's hell going back to babylon martin sends the emphasis of
belshazzar's private drama as i said to a public one it shows babylon in all its vast expanse from the palace of anyway in its sheer expanse and dizzying heights we know it is about to be looted and many in the terrified crowd in the picture, including Belshazzar himself, will be killed.
It is also a drama of punished pride and rewarded virtue as well, as the captive Jews, including their prophet Daniel, will be set free. and the turbulent sky with the conjunction of the moon and the star adds a cosmic element to a drama that martin portrays as religious and political the moral of the piece is what God announces here in bright lights and Daniel reveals that there is divine justice that is about to overthrow a proud and sinful monarch, it has been suggested that John Martin might have been commenting on the contemporary Hanoverian kings George III and George IV.
There is no direct evidence for this and neither Martin nor his reviewers ever put a word in print that did so. draw a parallel, but I think the suggestion is there as a warning and I think at least part of the audience understood that George III had been king for nearly 60 years when he died in
1820, the year Martin painted Belshazzar's feast , this is the amazing wonderful informal portrait that was in the great gulf often is an exhibition at the British Art Center a couple of years ago in his later life George the third after losing his American colonies had two bouts of madness and became went blind you may have seen his life dramatized by alan bennett in the 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne, had resigned in 1811 and handed over his official duties to his dissolute son, the Prince of Wales, who became Prince Regent and remained a notoriously wasteful and adulterous playboy and was heavily criticized. thus a zealous Scottish preacher, the Reverend Neil Douglas, was tried for sedition in 1817 for comparing George III to Nebuchadnezzar for his infidelity and corruption and comparing the Prince Regent to his son Belshazzar, the case was reported in print and although Douglas was acquitted that trial must have had what we would call a chilling effect that made Martin and his reviewers wary of pointing out the obvious about his picture, namely that the Prince Regent had been weighed in the scales and found wanting for Nebuchadnezzar, you will remember he had looted the Temple in Jerusalem and returned the holy temples to Babylon along with his Israelite slaves mm-hmm here is Nebuchadnezzar at the Metropolitan Opera a couple of years ago under the Italian name Nabucco and Greens wonderful opera from 1842 Just after Nabucco sing I am king, I am no longer God, start to go crazyfor their sins.
Nebuchadnezzar received terrible dreams according to the Old Testament and worse than that in the popular versions of his life. Nebuchadnezzar went mad and lived like an animal and the desert I'm just showing you William Blake's astonishing image of the king turned into a beast on all fours in this 1815 engraving here the great cartoonist Cruikshank an implacable critic of the royal family turned the Prince Regent in a terrifying little Nebuchadnezzar haunted by horrible dreams of answer and debt and misrule I think Martin's setting for the Babylonian court his vast compound of pavilions and colonnades would have reinforced an association with the Prince Regent who had his own great ambition for public buildings from 1819 monopolized by the great architect and planner John Nash for 20 years in a series of projects that gave London its Regency, most of them are still there serving their purpose of being grand and functional they were building everywhere in this
1820s and the Prince Regent's appetite for architecture. the glory was there in the faces of Londoners wherever they went year after year a case in point when the Prince Regent moved into Buckingham Palace at great expense he had raised the money by tearing down the Carlton house where he had been living and having Nash replaced it with the Carlton House Terrace spec development, the very expensive terraced houses intended for big buyers there is on the left, it comes seven years after Belshazzar's party and finished a couple of years after George's death, its heart is heavy, Doric colonnade below and recessed gallery above.
You'd think it would long look like some sort of British Babylon ordered by an unrepentant spendthrift king who still ignored the writing on the wall in George III's former colonies. The painter Thomas Cole hoped to persuade Americans to commission history paintings. Modeled after John Moreton Cole was familiar with Martin's paintings and prints from various trips to his native England, it was Martin's example more than anything else that inspired Cole's five-part allegory on the rise and fall of the Empire here the destruction of an ancient imaginary well Cole admired both the didactic purposes of Martin's art and his grandiose vision of the doomed glories of long-dead civilizations, whatever topical messages he may have carried in the 1820s about miss rule and the pay of the sin.
The image of Martin has survived to this day, so what are we to do with it? I am not going to suggest that it has a particular moral for our age that is not in the story of the Book of Daniel, but Martin's vision of Babylon has had a long life in the time of my grandparents and parents and even in my own. . I will close this talk with some examples. My grandfather could have gone to Babylon in Oakland. Gardens a summer amusement park in Roxbury part of Boston Roxbury Remembers is where John Trumbull watched or attempted the Battle of Bunker Hill in the 1880s the owners had built a reconstruction of Babylon based on John Martin's footprints seating 10,000 people to see what the poster proclaims to be battles, parades, song and dance, elephants, camels etc. presented by the firm of Barnum & Bailey and they also had a Pompeii on site but it wasn't enough to turn a profit for over 12 seasons and then has disappeared and disappeared without a trace my father as a child watched DW Griffith's long running epic bigotry whose Babylon had provided the most stunning visuals ever to be seen on the screen Griffith had built this set on a dirt road in Hollywood that was later paved over and named Sunset Boulevard.
Martin's colonnades were evidently a bit bland for Griffith, so he added a few inventions of his own, like columns with rearing elephants on top, and since Martin's crowds might have seemed a bit thin, he hired 4,000 extras to play priests. and slaves and temple maidens and court eunuchs and Syrian troops and now I can drive east on Sunset Boulevard from my house to where the set once stood there is a mall on the site with DW Babylonian decor Griffith is a reconstruction of a reconstruction of a reconstruction and I can have a margarita where Belshazzar drank wine from the holy vessels the next
lectureand the penultimate one will be on another famous scene by another famous painter set in another ancient place a Roman amphitheater in another imaginative reconstruction the narration will be implicit and not explained, the films will seem even closer, since the role of history painting will have changed in the 19th century, as it was adapted to the new audience and reduced.
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