Thence by descent.
'And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars...And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth... And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron....And to the woman were given two wings of great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness into her place...And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman...'
On the other side of the painting Massys has depicted the destruction of the city of Babylon, as described in Revelation 19: 9-10, 17, 21:
'And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all'
In the foreground the Kings and the merchants of the earth lament the burning of the city, while in the ships more merchants and sailors bemoan their fate, all details recounted by Saint John in his vision.
Hitherto apparently unrecorded, this is an important addition to Massys' known oeuvre. It was painted during his second Antwerp period, which followed his return in 1555 from an eleven year period of exile from Brabant on account of his 'heretical' religious views. In style and in its tripartite format it clearly recalls his treatment of the theme of Lot and his daughters painted in the same year, and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, wherein the protagonists are set against a landscape divided between the destruction of Sodom on one hand and a more welcoming vista on the other.1 Massys repeated the theme two years later in 1565 in another work now in the Musée de Beaux Arts in Brussels.2 Massys' painting of Saint John appears to be the only one of its time in which the destruction of Babylon, seemingly inspired by the vistas of hell in the work of Hieronymous Bosch, is depicted. Bosch's own painting of the subject, however, now in Berlin, merely depicts Saint John before a vision of the the Virgin and Child 'clothed with the sun', with a view of Antwerp beyond. 3 Other works by Herri Met de Bles in Antwerp and Joos van Cleve in Michigan reduce both the saint and his vision to incidentals in more panoramic and benign world landscapes.4
1. See L. Buijnsters-Smets, Jan Massys, Een Antwerps schilder uit de zestiende eeuw, Zwolle 1995, p. 207, reproduced.
2. Buijnster-Smets, op. cit., 1995, pp. 214-5, no. 50, reproduced. A third unsigned version is in the Musée de Cognac in Cognac (ibid, no. 50a).
3.For which see L. Silver, Hieronymous Bosch, New York and London 2006, pp. 205-7, reproduced plate 104.
4. For the latter see J.O. Hand, Joos van Cleve, the complete paintings, New York and London 2004, p. 147, cat. no. 56, reproduced fig. 83.
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