Great works: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (c.1496-8) by Albrecht Dürer

Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

The world – the world, that is, as seen through the prism of the feverish imaginings of man – has often believed itself to be on the brink of an apocalypse, and never more so than at the turn of a new century or, better still, a new millennium – in spite of the fact that chronology itself is man-made.

Think of the acute anxieties that stalked the news floors of the media at the turn of the second millennium, for example, when many shrill, not-so-much-in-the-know commentators predicted the wholesale collapse of the world's computers systems, and tinned food was stock-piled in the outhouses of ageing hippies in upstate New York. Nothing happened at all. Apart, that is, from universal rejoicing – to the accompaniment, worldwide, of the glorious sputtering of fireworks.

The idea of apocalypse itself has been made all the more vivid by Revelations, the very last book of the Bible, which contains scene after scene of momentously illogical happenings, implacable tales of the Last Days, terrible warrings before the Second Coming is finally upon us, when the sheep are divided from the goats and all is at peace at last. These visions – once believed to be the work of the Apostle John, Jesus's most beloved disciple – have been seized on by artists, theologians and doom-mongers of various stripes down the centuries to warn us of imminent catastrophe.

Here we have a version by the brilliant Nuremberger Albrecht Dürer, one of an entire suite of woodblocks created at the turn of the 16th century, yet another potentially apocalyptic moment full of war, rumours of war and doctrinal conflict. It is on display until 1 September at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester amid many other wonderful things from their permanent collection, including Goyas, De Chiricos and Picassos. This too seems to be a terrible warning of sorts, driven by politics, religion and fear of what an unknowable future might bring down upon the heads of the godless. What we see, furiously visually enacted here, was, according to the Bible, described on a scroll in the keeping of Jesus, who sits enthroned. A lamb with seven horns and seven eyes seizes that scroll, breaks its seal, and reads...

The tale tells of four horsemen, representing war, plague, death and famine – and here they are thunderously driving across from left to right, over the poor specimens of common humanity who are being crushed beneath the hooves of the wildly stampeding horses. All descends in such a rush, such a terrible fury – which reminds us of Jesus's admonishment to be forever watchful because you never know at what hour doom many strike. Three of the horsemen have grizzled beards. The beard of Death (he with the slackened flesh almost hanging from those painfully thin limbs) is flame-like and Blakean. He prepares to lash out with a trident. Another has a raised sword, a third a drawn bow.

As always with Dürer, the punctilious attention to detail and the sureness of line are astonishing. Best of all is to see this image blown up in reproduction. Then you miss nothing of all its complexity. Everything is perfectly physically realised, and yet it is a realisation of pure, Bible-driven flights of fancy.

About the artist: Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Albrecht Dürer, the greatest graphic artist in the Western tradition, was also a mathematician and theorist who wrote on geometry, perspective and fortification. The third child of a family that eventually numbered somewhere between 14 and 18, his father was a successful goldsmith of Hungarian origins. Astonishingly precocious, he was apprenticed early and travelled widely (his painting is powerfully influenced by his sojourns in Italy).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on