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Apr. 11 ArtMinute: John Martin, The Destruction of Tyre

Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Art Museum, Toledo Museum, art, artminute, art of the week
John Martin (British, 1789–1854) The Destruction of Tyre. Oil on canvas, 1840. Purchased with fund from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1952.88

Teetering between the supernatural and the sensational, John Martin's apocalyptic scene embodies the concept of "sublime terror." The idea of the Sublime, popular in art and literature from the late 1700s to the mid–1800s, was often expressed by awe- or fear-inspiring images of nature, Gothic supernatural horrors, or divine retribution. 

Martin paints a lurid vision of the Old Testament account of Ezekiel's prophecy warning of the destruction of the city of Tyre. Towers and buildings topple as waves pound them; lightning strikes; ships sink; and a lone, richly dressed woman in an ornate boat raises her arms to the sky in terror and lamentation. A wealthy seaport on the coast of Lebanon, Tyre is described in Ezekiel 26 as bringing the vengeance of God upon itself for turning against Jerusalem. The city was destroyed not by catastrophic storms, but by the armies of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 19, however, provided Martin with his inspiration: "when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and the great waters shall cover thee..."