October 5, 2015

John Martin - Apocalyptic visionary

Born more than 200 years ago, in 1789 somewhere near Hexham in England, John Martin's epic visions of doom still resonate today. His works continue to inspire modern creators and his far reaching influence can be recognized in popular media from around the world. For example, George Lucas based Coruscant's galactic senate on one of Martin's engravings; "Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council". Others whose imaginations were fired by him included Ralph Waldo Emerson, the pre-Raphaelites, and several generations of movie-makers, from D. W. Griffith, who borrowed his Babylon from Martin, to Cecil B. DeMille. One of his earliest followers was Thomas Cole, founder of American landscape painting. The French Romantic movement, in both art and literature, was inspired by him. He even influenced early SF writers like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells with his concept of the sublime.

In private Martin was passionate, a devotee of chess—and, in common with his brothers, swordsmanship and javelin-throwing—and a devout Christian, believing in "natural religion". Around 1820 he became the official historical painter to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later the first King of Belgium. As his reputation grew Martin became a public defender of deism and natural religion, evolution (before Darwin) and rationality. Georges Cuvier became an admirer of Martin's, and he increasingly enjoyed the company of scientists, artists and writers—Dickens, Faraday and Turner among them.

Later in life Martin became involved with many plans and inventions. He developed a fascination with solving London's water and sewage problems, involving the creation of the Thames embankment, containing a central drainage system. His plans were visionary, and formed the basis for later engineers' designs – Joseph Bazalgette's included. The plans, along with railway schemes, an idea for "laminating timber", lighthouses, and draining islands, all survive.

As a result of his experimenting with mezzotint technology Martin was commissioned to produce 24 engravings for a new edition of Paradise Lost—perhaps the definitive illustrations of Milton’s masterpiece, of which copies now fetch many hundreds of pounds.

He exhibited many works during the 1840s, culminating in his triumphal The Last Judgment trilogy of paintings which were completed in 1853, just before the stroke which paralysed his right side. He was never to recover and died on 17 February 1854, on the Isle of Man.


To be honest, pictures don't quite do his monumental paintings justice, they have to be experienced to really grok them. APOCALYPSE IS COMING

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