VAVO on Tour: A Visit to CenSAMM

Last month, Lieke and Naomi were invited to participate in a seminar on “Text and Representation in the Critical Study of Apocalypticism” run by CenSAMM (Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic Movements) at Hughes Hall in Cambridge. The invitation was extended particularly to introduce the VAVO network and to explore potential collaborative efforts between VAVO and CenSAMM.

We presented a short introduction to the network, and we each discussed a case study of current work relating to Apocalypticism.

Naomi spoke about the tailpiece to Revelation in the Macklin Bible – an ambitious, illustrated Bible, published in London at the end of the eighteenth century. The tailpiece, designed by Philip James de Loutherbourg, depicts the Beast of Revelation. Naomi discussed some of the esoteric symbolism that Loutherbourg uses in the image, and the question of the identity of the beast. She explained that this monster is a product of the revolutionary 1790s, when events such as the French Revolution led to a proliferation of apocalyptic and millenarian discourse and art.


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James Heath, after Philip James de Loutherbourg, tailpiece to Revelation from the Macklin Bible (c.1800). Etching. 478 x 390 cm. The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.

Lieke talked about the possibility and relevance of looking at modern art through the lens of apocalypticism. Several modernist art movements, initiated around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, operated on the prerequisite of destruction in order to build a new world through art. Just think of Futurism, Dadaism, Der Blaue Reiter (Kandinsky and Marc famously wrote in their almanac: “Today art is moving in a direction of which our fathers would never have dreamed. We stand before new pictures as in a dream, and we hear the apocalyptic horsemen in the air. There is an artistic tension all over Europe.”) and Bauhaus. In her talk, Lieke focused on the work of Piet Mondrian, for whom destruction was essential in reaching a fundamentally spiritual abstract visual language. Subject to contemporary misapprehension, Mondrian decidedly made his work for a spiritually-elevated future people, inhabiting a world in which (his) abstraction had become the norm.

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Piet Mondrian dedicated the French translation of his text on Neo-Plasticism to people of the future. (Le Neoplasticisme, Editions de L’Effort Moderne, 1920).

Other (fascinating!) papers were delivered by Hugh Pyper (University of Sheffield), Natasha O’Hear (University of St Andrews), VAVO’s own Michelle Fletcher (King’s College London) and Ana Valdez (University of Lisbon).

Natasha and Michelle’s papers were especially relevant to VAVO. Natasha spoke about visualising the Apocalypse, drawing on her work with Anthony O’Hear on their book Picturing the Apocalypse (OUP, 2015). Michelle told us about some current and forthcoming exhibitions for the Visual Commentary on Scripture, including her own forthcoming piece on Belshazzar’s Feast, which we had a preview of at our panel at ISRLC in September 2018.

The event was stimulating and fruitful for us, and we hope it will be the beginning of further collaborations with CenSAMM. Just to say: watch this space!

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