The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Drawing, Mixed Technique, 2016

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, the Apostle (6:1-8). Upon opening the scroll in God’s right hand sealed with seven seals, the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – four creatures riding on white, red, black and pale horses are released symbolizing Conquest or Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, as it is often accepted by interpreters.

But, no matter the interpretations given to the meaning of the Horsemen and its message, whether prophetic or otherwise, they often inspired artists, namely Matthias Gerung, Albrecht Durer and Gustave Doré and writers like Vicente Blasco Ibañez.

In his book The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse set on the eve of the Great War, Blasco Ibañez through one his characters – Tchernoff, makes an allegorical reference to it, as the French soldiers are leaving to the battle fields:

«The four horsemen were preceding the appearance of the monster in John’s vision.

The seven seals of the book of mystery were broken by the Lamb in the presence of the great throne where was seated one who shone like jasper. The rainbow round about the throne was in sight like unto an emerald. Twenty-four thrones were in a semicircle around the great throne, and upon them twenty-four elders with white robes and crowns of gold. Four enormous animals, covered with eyes and each having six wings, seemed to be guarding the throne. The sounding of trumpets was greeting the breaking of the first seal.

“Come and see,” cried one of the beasts in a stentorian tone to the vision-seeing poet. . . . And the first horseman appeared on a white horse. In his hand he carried a bow, and a crown was given unto him. He was Conquest, according to some, the Plague according to others. He might be both things at the same time. He wore a crown, and that was enough for Tchernoff.

“Come forth,” shouted the second animal, removing his thousand eyes. And from the broken seal leaped a flame-colored steed. His rider brandished over his head an enormous sword. He was War. Peace fled from the world before his furious gallop; humanity was going to be exterminated.

And when the third seal was broken, another of the winged animals bellowed like a thunder clap, “Come and see!” And John saw a black horse. He who mounted it held in his hand a scale in order to weigh the maintenance of mankind. He was Famine.

The fourth animal saluted the breaking of the fourth seal with a great roaring—“Come and see!” And there appeared a pale-colored horse. His rider was called Death, and power was given him to destroy with the sword and with hunger and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

The four horsemen were beginning their mad, desolating course over the heads of terrified humanity.

Tchernoff was describing the four scourges of the earth exactly as though he were seeing them. The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy, and barbarous attire. His Oriental countenance was contracted with hatred as if smelling out his victims. While his horse continued galloping, he was bending his bow in order to spread pestilence abroad. At his back swung the brass quiver filled with poisoned arrows, containing the germs of all diseases—those of private life as well as those which envenom the wounded soldier on the battlefield.

The second horseman on the red steed was waving the enormous, two-edged sword over his hair bristling with the swiftness of his course. He was young, but the fierce scowl and the scornful mouth gave him a look of implacable ferocity. His garments, blown open by the motion of his wild race, disclosed the form of a muscular athlete.

Bald, old and horribly skinny was the third horseman bouncing up and down on the rawboned back of his black steed. His shrunken legs clanked against the thin flanks of the lean beast. In one withered hand he was holding the scales, symbol of the scarcity of food that was going to become as valuable as gold.

The knees of the fourth horseman, sharp as spurs, were pricking the ribs of the pale horse. His parchment-like skin betrayed the lines and hollows of his skeleton. The front of his skull-like face was twisted with the sardonic laugh of destruction. His cane-like arms were whirling aloft a gigantic sickle. From his angular shoulders was hanging a ragged, filthy shroud.

And the furious cavalcade was passing like a hurricane over the immense assemblage of human beings. The heavens showed above their heads, a livid, dark-edged cloud from the west. Horrible monsters and deformities were swarming in spirals above the furious horde, like a repulsive escort. Poor Humanity, crazed with fear, was fleeing in all directions on hearing the thundering pace of the Plague, War, Hunger and Death. Men and women, young and old, were knocking each other down and falling to the ground overwhelmed by terror, astonishment and desperation. And the white horse, the red, the black and the pale, were crushing all with their relentless, iron tread—the athletic man was hearing the crashing of his broken ribs, the nursing babe was writhing at its mother’s breast, and the aged and feeble were closing their eyes forever with a childlike sob.

“God is asleep, forgetting the world,” continued the Russian. “It will be a long time before he awakes, and while he sleeps the four feudal horsemen of the Beast will course through the land as its only lords.”

(cf. V. Blasco Ibañez. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, translated by Charlotte Brewster Jordan, Part I, Chapter V).

And in the end, in Marcelo Desnoyers’ words:

«There was no justice; the world was ruled by blind chance;—all lies, mere words of consolation in order that mankind might exist unterrified by the hopeless abandon in which it lived!

It appeared to him that from afar was echoing the gallop of the four Apocalyptic horsemen, riding rough-shod over all his fellow-creatures. He saw the strong and brutal giant with the sword of War, the archer with his repulsive smile, shooting his pestilential arrows, the bald-headed miser with the scales of Famine, the hard-riding spectre with the scythe of Death. He recognized them as only divinities, familiar and terrible-which had made their presence felt by mankind. All the rest was a dream. The four horsemen were the reality…. ».

(Idem, Part III, Ch. V).

Elena Hlodec’s interpretation follows a more syncretic and poetic form, close to her recent awesome series of etchings illustrating the Divina Comedia – The Inferno (cf. https://elenahlodec.wordpress.com/restitutio-in-integrum/)

The whole composition rather reminds a sculpture, that allowes the viewer to decode its meaning, by walking around and see it from multiple angles

Indeed, the four horses with its riders follow the cardinal points: the White horse with the rider holding a bow – Pestilence – on the top right; the Red horse – War – with the rider holding a sword, at the bottom; the Black horse – Famine -and its rider holding a scales in the centre; and the Pale horse – Death – at the top on the left hand side. The seals from where the horsemen were unleashed are opened and in the chest of the riders, human souls and shadows are depicted.

At the bottom of the drawing one can see two squares juxtaposed on top of one another using the reverse Byzantine perspective for one of the squares, and behind the red horse, the slain Lamb. The feet coming out of the book hint at the idea of the changes that are about to come set in the Book of Revelation.

And at the very bottom of the drawing, on either side, the arches and columns of a temple, in blue, which in the Artist own words «symbolize the reflection of Hope for the last seconds of life and the mirror where the vivid sanctuary of pain and sorrow ceases to reflect and disappears without no personification».

Caparica, 23rd December 2016

José Vicente de Bragança