• Benjamin West
  • John Martin
  • Thomas Cook

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN:
APOCALYPTIC IMAGERY IN ENGLAND, 1750-1850

October 6, 2017 – January 14, 2018


“All that can be annihilated must be annihilated
That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery.”

William Blake, Milton, c. 1804-11

The threat of apocalyptic destruction loomed large in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, which stood as one of the most powerful nations in the world. Cataclysmic change occurred frequently within and beyond its borders. Political upheavals, natural disasters, and new foreign adversaries led many to believe that the end was at hand. The French Revolution of 1789 in particular was widely seen as the spark of the oncoming apocalypse—whether this was a source of celebration or fear was a matter of significant debate.

At the same time, England’s artistic activity was growing significantly. The Royal Academy of Arts was founded in 1768 and London’s art market saw exponential expansion. In this political and cultural climate, audiences were eager for subjects of destruction and terror. The rise of Romanticism, with its emphasis on the supernatural, grotesque, and terrifying, led artists to explore apocalyptic sources from the Bible to John Milton. Caricaturists couched contemporary events in the language of the apocalypse. Despite their satirical nature, these images often seem prophetic in light of the political changes to come.

The World Turned Upside Down explores the myriad ways that artists in England visualized the apocalypse in a period fraught with political, religious, economic and cultural change. From political prints to monumental paintings, lavishly illustrated books to cheap pamphlets, apocalyptic imagery pervaded every aspect of English visual culture in this period. The diversity of artistic responses to the dramatic events of the time makes one thing clear: anxiety about the future—of one’s soul and of the English nation as a whole—was inescapable.

Support for this exhibition and accompanying programs is generously provided by the Beatrice Haggerty Endowment Fund, Spicuzza/Hambling Quasi-Endowed Fund, and the Stackner Family Endowment Fund.

Download the exhibition catalogue here.


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