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[German Bible].
Volume 2 of two.
Nuremberg: Anton Koberger,
17 February 1483.

In Revelation 6:1–8, the lamb on the altar opens four of the seven seals on a book. Each of these seals releases one of the apocalyptic horsemen: first, a crowned conqueror on a white horse who wields a bow; second, a sword-bearing warrior who rides a red horse; third, a rider on a black horse who holds a pair of scales; fourth, a grisly figure on a pale horse who comes with the gaping mouth of Hell in inexorable pursuit. Representing plague, war, famine, and death, these horsemen kill one-fourth of the earth’s population.

Whereas medieval illuminators had depicted the four riders as described in the biblical account, galloping forth individually as each seal is opened in a sequence of four images, German artists of the fifteenth century began to treat the subject as a single cavalcade within one unified scene. The anonymous designer of the exhibited “Four Horsemen” woodcut has created the convincing impression of forward momentum. The people swallowed by the mouth of Hell include a king, pope, cardinal, and pious peasants.

The Apocalypse woodcuts used in Koberger’s Bible of 1483 profoundly influenced his godson, Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who in 1498 would adapt many of the pictorial motifs from this Bible into the woodcut illustrations of his Apocalypse cum figuris.

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