Wow! Apparently, someone in Bavaria a very, very long time ago wanted to scare the living daylights out of a bunch of people. These astonishing gouache and watercolor paintings, commissioned by an unknown patron around 1552 in Augsburg, Germany, depict flying dragons, two-headed beasts, armored cupids (!), fire and brimstone, the whole kit and caboodle of the End of Days. They were discovered quite recently and sold at auction a mere six years ago.
I wish I could read these; I can understand German, but centuries-old portentous religious texts expose the limits of my paltry fluency. Fortunately, we have Joshua P. Waterman, who helped compile 169 (!) of these phantasmagorical images for the recently published Book of Miracles, to guide us:
The unidentified patron who commissioned this manuscript wanted to create a stunning visual experience…. The Protestant viewer would have reflected on the greater significance of these wonders: Why are there dragons in the sky? Why does it rain blood? Why are there three suns overhead? We know from contemporary sources that the answer was general: Things are wrong in the world. Repent and prepare for the end times, which are possibly now.
They implied moral improvement could mark a path not only to a better existence on earth, but also eternal life. Unfortunately, the catastrophes in the book—earthquakes, floods, storms, fires, and volcanic eruptions—are still all too relevant. Let’s hope instead that 2014 brings harmless wonders such as battles of celestial armies, which was the 16th-century interpretation of northern lights, and maybe some sword-wielding comets.