Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
John Martin fantasy painting

On Battles and Modelling Forces: the Work of John Martin


The artistic fervour that drove Martin to create those canvasses has an evident hint of brilliant rebelliousness.

The fantastical visions that emerged from John Martin’s imagery (1789-1854) are landscapes in epic dimensions wielding a dramatic nerve, in the best style of cinematic productions. This master of English painting, a contemporary of Turner’s and other renowned romantics, is distinguished by a profound visual poetic that connects with the best classical allegories. Martin developed a style of his own, a worldly, harsh painting, designed to give strength to his discourse, —at times it is related to Blake, and at times to Fuseli’s monsters and witches. His explosive imagination, and the astounding montage and illumination he produces, are feats which warrant our recognition.

Martin possessed a particular way of applying perspective; he compressed distance and raised the third and even fourth Advents, with the purpose of expressing that profound respect and almost fear the forces of nature inspired in him. His skills were devoted to portraying imaginary landscapes, fed by direct references deeply settled in the Irish mountains and sea that he watched growing up in the Isle of Man. Many of his works share the same perspectives and compositions, these wide viewpoints of disasters, gallops and forces colliding, revolutionising the winds and inspiring retinal pleasures —by the way, practically always hosting a space for all natural elements and a wide range of miniature facial expressions.

The composition of works such as Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still and Belshazzar’s Feast, are extra-large planes that overpower the viewer’s point of view placing him in a celestial throne —a lucid precedent of the cinematic feats developed by the Lumière brothers after their death; the same multiple light sources Martin thoroughly placed in his paintings, some very white —similar to the artificial lighting in film studios. Passionate until the very end, the elderly painter continued to plot chaos, the primal forces that modelled the world seem to be playing; a titanic clash between the opposing couples and some of his visions are Tartars and other Olympians.

The Great Day of His Wrath, an impressive wave of classic architecture going straight towards an imminent clash, the collision of a civilisation because of divine will, an aesthetic encounter with the mystery of death and unknown forces that seem to overpower everything in Martin’s work. There was always room for thunder in his canvas, lava and swirling suffering bodies, landscapes worthy of Dante’s vision, which inspire dark reflections.

It is well known that the masters we remember still, where revolutionaries, peripheral minds that believed in their path and followed it through, rebels that are in sync with eternity, just like Martin was.

Related Articles