St John Eating the Book Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This woodcut depicts a literal interpretation of an event described in the Old Testament book of Revelation. The work is the tenth in a series of fifteen woodcuts which were consequently printed and bound into a book entitled 'The Apocalypse' which is dated 1498.

Durer pioneered this way for an artist to publish a book of their work and also to create a 'copyright' of the work in the process. Durer was the first artist to utilize a press to create prints of his own work. Many experts have concluded that this work is, perhaps, the most significant development in the history of printmaking. The image depicts the kneeling St.John 'devouring' a book being handed to him by an Angel. The right side of the image is dominated by a dense forest of trees, while the foreground reveals tufts of grass growing by the waterside. The top left of the image exhibits an altar surrounded by Angels.

Many art experts consider this was included to indicate the presence of God. It is considered that the artist"s intention may have been to 'literally' show St.John consuming the words of God by eating the book. The background of the image is dominated by a water scene depicting a large fish, or perhaps a dolphin, swimming in the ocean while Swans are depicted as moving across the surface of the water in a serene manner. The figure of the Angel reflects the text of Revelation by being depicted as supported on 'fiery columns'. The body of the Angel appears to be formed by 'clouds', which once again reflects a liberal interpretation of the words of the book of Revelation. The area around the head of the Angel features a 'halo' which is described in the Revelation as being 'a rainbow'.

The bottom right of the image shows the 'logo' or 'trademark' which Durer added to his work after a court decided other artists could copy his work but not use his signature. The significance of this book is that it shows the ability for an artist to produce a work, using a woodcut, and then produce prints which, in the example of 'The Apocalypse' can be bound into a book. This suggests that Durer was not only a talented artist but that he also had a very good 'business brain'. Other artists made significant financial gains by following in the footsteps of Albrecht Durer.