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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Conquest, War, Famine & Death, an 1887 painting by Viktor Vasnetsov.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described in the last book of the New Testament of the Bible, called the Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to John the Apostle. The first horseman, Conquest on the White Horse as depicted in the Bamberg Apocalypse (1000-1020). Irenaeus, an influential Christian theologian of the 2nd century, was among the first to interpret this horseman as Christ himself, his white horse representing the successful spread of the gospel.[3] Various scholars have since supported this notion,[6] citing the later appearance, in Revelation 19, of Christ mounted on a white horse, appearing as The Word of God.
However, opposing interpretations argue that the first of the four horsemen is probably not the horseman of Revelation 19. Under another interpretation, the first horseman is called Pestilence, and is associated with infectious disease and plague.
Vicente Blasco IbA?A±ez, in his 1916 novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (filmed in 1921 and in 1962), provides an early example of this interpretation, writing "The horseman on the white horse was clad in a showy and barbarous attire. This section may need to be rewritten entirely to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. One interpretation, which was held by evangelist Billy Graham, casts the rider of the white horse as the Antichrist,[13] or a representation of false prophets, citing differences between the white horse in Revelation 6 and Jesus on the white Horse in Revelation 19.[14] In Revelation 19,[15] Jesus has many crowns. According to Edward Bishop Elliott's interpretation, that the four horsemen represent a prophecy of the subsequent history of the Roman Empire, the white color of this horse signifies triumph, prosperity and health in the political Roman body. This interpretation points out that the bow was preeminently a weapon of the inhabitants of the island of Crete and not of the Roman Empire in general.
According to this interpretation, this period in Roman history, remarkable, both at its commencement and at its close, illustrated the glory of the empire where its limits were extended though not without occasional wars which were always uniformly triumphant and successful on the frontiers. According to Edward Bishop Elliott's interpretation of the four horsemen as symbolic prophecy of the history of the Roman Empire, the second seal is opened and the Roman nation that experienced joy, prosperity and triumph is made subject to the red horse which depicts war and bloodshed a€” Civil War. Elliott points out that Commodus, who had nothing to wish and everything to enjoy, that beloved son of Marcus who ascended the throne with neither competitor to remove nor enemies to punish, became the slave of his attendants who gradually corrupted his mind. Elliott further recites that, after the death of Commodus, a most turbulent period lasting 92 years unfolded during which time 32 emperors and 27 pretenders to the Empire hurled each other from the throne by incessant civil warfare. Of the four horsemen, the black horse and its rider are the only ones whose appearance is accompanied by a vocal pronunciation. According to Edward Bishop Elliott's interpretation, through this third seal, the black horse is unleashed a€” aggravated distress and mourning.
The black horse rider is instructed not to harm the oil and the wine which signifies that this scarcity should not fall upon the superfluities, such as oil and wine, which men can live without, but upon the necessities of life a€” bread.
In reality, the rise to power of the Emperor Maximin, whose cruelty was derived from a different source being raised as a barbarian from the district of Thrace, expanded the distress on the empire beyond the confines of the illustrious senators or bold adventurers who in the court or army exposed themselves to the whims of fortune. This fourth, pale horse, was the personification of death with Hades following him jaws open receiving the victims slain by death. According to Elliott, famine, the inevitable consequence of carnage and oppression, which demolished the produce of the present as well as the hope of future harvests, produced the environment for an epidemic of diseases, the effects of scanty and unwholesome food.
As for the wild beasts of the earth, according to Elliott, it is a well-known law of nature that they quickly occupy the scenes of waste and depopulation a€” where the reign of man fails and the reign of beast begins. One notable point of apparent difference between the prophecy and history might seem to be expressly limited to the fourth part of the Roman earth, but in the history of the period the devastations of the pale horse extended over at all.
Some Christians interpret the horsemen as a prophecy of a future Tribulation,[6] during which many on earth will die as a result of multiple catastrophes.
Revelation's historical context may also influence the depiction of the black horse and its rider, Famine. American Protestant Evangelical interpreters regularly see ways in which the horsemen, and Revelation in general, speak to contemporary events. By creating your Harvard Art Museums account you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Central panel from an altarpiece depicting the Apocalypse, by Master Bertram, Hamburg, Germany, about 1380. Altarpiece of the Apocalypse These panels are from a triptych (work of art in three sections), probably an altarpiece, made in Hamburg, Germany, around 1380, by a craftsman known as Master Bertram (around 1345–1415).
Audio: Gregorian Apocalypse chants The four sung prayers you can listen to here are all examples of Gregorian chant. Explore the V&A's huge range of events about the designed world, from blockbuster exhibitions to intimate displays and installations, world-class talks, casual and accredited training courses and conferences with expert contemporary speakers.
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The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer. The Holy Spirit was understood to have come upon the Apostles at Pentecost after Jesus' departure from Earth.


In this depiction, a human named Niccolo contracts leprosy, dies, and falls to Hell where he rises through the ranks to become the Horseman of Pestilence, under Lucifer's tutelage.
For the next 80 or 90 years succeeding the banishment of the apostle John to Patmos covering the successive reigns of the emperors Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the two Antonines (Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius), a golden age of prosperity, union, civil liberty and good government unstained with civil blood unfolded. The triumphs of the Emperor Trajan, the Roman Alexander, added to the empire Dacia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, and other provinces during the course of the first 20 years of the period which deepened the impression on the minds of the barbarians of the invincibility of the Roman Empire. The color red, as well as the rider's possession of a great sword, suggests blood that is to be spilled.[3] The sword held upward by the second horseman may represent war or a declaration of war, as seen in heraldry.
John hears a voice, unidentified but coming from among the four living creatures, that speaks of the prices of wheat and barley, also saying "and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine". During the reign of Emperor Caracalla, whose sentiments were very different from the Antonines being inattentive, or rather averse, to the welfare of the people, he found himself under the necessity of gratifying the greed and excessive lifestyle which he had excited in the Army. This tyrant, stimulated by the insatiable desires of the soldiers, attacked the public property at length. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.
Known as "the pale rider",[citation needed] of all the riders, he is the only one to whom the text itself explicitly gives a name. Its commission was to kill upon the Roman Earth with all of the four judgements of God a€” with sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. That furious plague, which raged from the year 250 to the year 265, continued without interruption in every province, city and almost every family in the empire. The fourth seal prophecy seems to mark the malignant climax of the evils of the two preceding seals to which no such limitation is attached.
Elliott, the first seal, as revealed to John by the angel, was to signify what was to happen soon after John seeing the visions in Patmos and that the second, third and fourth seals in like manner were to have commencing dates each in chronological sequence following the preceding seal. In 92 AD, the Roman emperor Domitian attempted to curb excessive growth of grapevines and encourage grain cultivation instead, but there was major popular backlash against this effort, and it was abandoned. Some who believe Revelation applies to modern times can interpret the horses based on various ways their colors are used.[37] Red, for example, often represents Communism, the white horse and rider with a crown representing Catholicism, Black has been used as a symbol of Capitalism, while Green represents the rise of Islam. Altarpieces with scenes from the Book of Revelation are rare, but this example is illustrated with images from the Apocalypse. Across its three panels, 45 brightly painted scenes from the Book of the Revelation are arranged in rows. It describes a number of visions experienced by its presumed author — St John the Evangelist. Browse, search and book onto our unrivalled event programme for all ages and levels of expertise.
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3 Then when the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, "Come!" 4 And another horse, fiery red, came out, and the one who rode it was granted permission to take peace from the earth, so that people would butcher one another, and he was given a huge sword. The significance of the rider of the white horse holding a bow indicates the place of origin of the line of emperors ruling during this time. Roman war progressed triumphantly into the invader's own territory, and the Parthian war was successfully ended by the total overthrow of those people. The apocalyptic figure indicated by the great sword indicated an undue authority and unnatural use of it.
This suggests that the black horse's famine is to drive up the price of grain but leave oil and wine supplies unaffected (though out of reach of the ordinary worker). Three choenixes of barley for a denarius produces a loaf of barley bread above 5 pounds in weight. During his reign, he crushed every part of the empire under the weight of his iron scepter. Every city of the empire was destined to purchase corn for the multitudes as well as supply expenses for the games. Unlike the other three, he is not described carrying a weapon or other object, instead he is followed by Hades (the resting place of the dead).[citation needed] However, illustrations commonly depict him carrying a scythe (like the Grim Reaper),[citation needed] sword,[25] or other implement. The deadly pale and livid appearance displays a hue symptomatic of approaching empire dissolution.
Turning to that remarkable reading in Jerome's Latin Vulgate which reads "over the four parts of the earth,"[5]:201 [33] it requires that the Roman empire should have some kind of quadripartition. This is when God will judge the Earth, and is giving the World a chance to repent before they die. Its general subject is the decline and fall, after a previous prosperous era, of the Empire of Heathen Rome. 5940-1859 Left and right panels from an altarpiece depicting the Apocalypse, by Master Bertram, Hamburg, Germany, about 1380. The triptych has 45 panels, each containing a scene – a layout derived from illuminated manuscripts.
The central panel is 123 centimetres, or 4 feet, high and 168 centimetres, or 5 and a half feet, wide. These visions include a series of catastrophic events destined to befall humankind before the final triumph of good over evil.On the central panel of the altarpiece, in the top row, are scenes showing the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Latin words of these chants, like the painted scenes on the altarpiece illustrated here, focus on events described in the Book of Revelation.The Book of Revelation includes descriptions of a series of visions experienced by its author, including descriptions of a series of terrible and catastrophic events that befall humankind before ending with the final triumph of good over evil. 5 Then when the Lamb opened the third seal I heard the third living creature saying, "Come!" So I looked, and here came a black horse!


The Lamb of God, or Lion of Judah (Jesus Christ), opens the first four of the seven seals, which summons four beings that ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses. Military men in power, whose vocation was war and weapon the sword, rose by it and also fell. From the time of the early Church onwards many Christians believed that the end of the world was close at hand. Though theologians and popular culture differ on the first horseman, the four riders are often seen as symbolizing Conquest[1] or Pestilence (and less frequently, the Christ or the Antichrist), War,[2] Famine,[3] and Death, respectively. The balance in the rider's hand is not associated with a man's weighing out bits of bread in scanty measure for his family's eating but in association with the buying and selling of corn and other grains. In the course of this history, the land tax, the taxes for services and the heavy contributions of corn, wine, oil and meat were exacted from the provinces for the use of the court, army and capital. 5940-1859 The word apocalypse means ‘revelation’ but is nowadays more usually associated with the idea of the end of the world. Running along the top is a decorative cornice studded with twelve small circular medallions containing paintings of the crowned heads of men and women.The scenes on the altarpiece are read from left to right across all three panels and are arranged in a grid, separated by scarlet lines.
6 Then I heard something like a voice from among the four living creatures saying, "A quart of wheat will cost a day's pay and three quarts of barley will cost a day's pay.
The Christian apocalyptic vision is that the four horsemen are to set a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment.[1][4] One reading ties the four horsemen to the history of the Roman Empire subsequent to the era in which the Book of Revelation was written. The balance during the time of the apostle John's exile in Patmos was commonly a symbol of justice since it was used to weigh out the grains for a set price.
This comes from the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, which describes the final battle between God and Satan – Armageddon.
But do not damage the olive oil and the wine!" 7 Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, "Come!" 8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! In a period when the Christian Church provided the moral and social framework for society, and belief in Heaven and Hell was absolute, the story of the Apocalypse had a widespread influence on many aspects of medieval thought, culture and everyday life. Many people could not read, so images and symbols were vital in communicating ideas and teachings. Christ's face is green, following a reference in the Book of Revelation that describes him as looking like 'jasper'. The words come from a text composed around the mid-1200s by a Franciscan friar called Alexander.
They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth. The visual imagery of the Book of Revelation is particularly vivid and symbolic, and was often re-used to refer to contemporary events. In the 12th century for example, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were seen by some as symbolising four stages in the history of the Church, and the Whore of Babylon has been associated with numerous notorious female characters throughout the medieval period and beyond. This text is derived from a 13th-century commentary by a Saxon friar, Alexander, in which he matches descriptions in the biblical Revelation to actual historical figures and events.On the left-hand panel, the second image in the top row depicts Christ wearing a long-sleeved white robe. He identified each of the four horsemen with the reign of a Roman Emperor who'd persecuted Christians.
Even in recent, less intensely religious, times, ideas associated with the Apocalypse remain embedded in modern culture.
His long hair is white, while his beard and face are gold, echoing the words of the Bible 'his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength'. Alexander believed that many of the scenes described in the Book of Revelation had already taken place and that the moment of final judgement was fast approaching. Numerous artworks and films reference the Book of Revelation, attesting to the power of its imagery.
A gold and scarlet halo frames his head and a sword, symbolising the word of God, almost touches his mouth. Examples include: L' Apocaliss illustrations (Giorgio de Chirico 1941), The Atomic Apocalypse (Linares Family 1983), Tree of Life (Kester, Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Mate 2004), the Omen films, and Pale Rider.
His feet are scarlet, resting on a mound of glowing coals, … 'as if they burned in a furnace'. Christ looks towards the youthful figure of St John the Evangelist, who lies at his feet in supplication.
St John was believed to have written the Book of Revelation.The third picture in the top row of the right hand panel shows the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse - Death - leaping on horseback from the mouth of Hell, personified as the gaping, fiery jaws of an enormous beast.
Death, robed in white, reaches behind him to push the head of an anguished man into Hell's maw. Its front hooves have split through the head of a bearded man who lies cowering beneath it.
The inscription around the scene is now missing, but Alexander's commentary identified the figure of Death as the Roman emperor Domitian persecuting the Christians.Above the scene an eagle, symbolising of St John, flies from the top left corner. The story is incomplete, however, lacking the scenes from the last five chapters of the Book of Revelation.



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