Cover image for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse : religion, war, famine, and death in Reformation Europe
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse : religion, war, famine, and death in Reformation Europe
Cunningham, Andrew, Dr.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiii, 360 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Introduction: An apocalyptic age -- The White Horse : religion, Revelation and Reformation -- The Red Horse : war, weapons and wounds -- The Black Horse : food, f(e)ast and famine -- The Pale Horse : disease, disaster and death -- Epilogue.
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D231 .C86 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Using the prism of DÜrer's woodcut, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Andrew Cunningham and Ole Grell offer a new and exciting interpretation of European history in the period 1490 to 1648. DÜrer's image came to characterize the outlook of most early modern Europeans, who saw repeated episodes of war, epidemics and famine as indicating the imminent end of the world. Lavishly illustrated with fascinating contemporary images, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse brings together religious, social, military and medical history, giving readers a unique insight into the early modern world. Andrew Cunningham is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in the University of Cambridge. His most recent book is The Anatomical Renaissance (1997). Ole Peter Grell is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at the Open University, Milton Keynes. Among his recent books are Calvinist Exiles in Tudor and Stuart England (Scolar Press, 1997) and Paracelsus: The Man and His Reputation (Brill Academic Publishers, 1998). Together the authors have published Health Care and Poor Relief in Protestant Europe 1500-1700 (Routledge, 1997) and Health Care and Poor Relief in Counter-Reformation Europe (Routledge, 1999). Since 1998 they have edited the series History of Medicine in Context published by Ashgate.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Cunningham and Grell argue that sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europeans used the imagery of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to help them understand, decode, and give meaning to the disasters they endured in a world they experienced as unstable. The imagery of the horsemen was broadly familiar to sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europeans, regardless of literacy, because of growing familiarity with John's Apocalypse, thanks to the period's many vernacular translations of the Bible and to Albrecht Durer's famous and oft-copied 1498 depiction of the horsemen. The horsemen also serve as the book's organizing principle as Cunningham and Grell argue that the prevalence of disasters during the period was due to the pressures of a population boom and the climatic changes that fueled it. That this introductory early modern history text is so accessible is not just a credit to its authors. It is also due to the continuing usefulness, because they are still familiar, of the horsemen in organizing contemporary understanding of social, political, and economic changes of so long ago. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Albrecht Drer's famous woodcut of the four horsemen as described in the Book of Revelation has been studied at great length and from many angles. However, the authors of this new study make a significant contribution to the discussion by demonstrating that contemporary folk consciously used this particular image to better understand the troubles that beset them and to frame these crises in an intelligible and meaningful context. As Cunningham and Grell, of Cambridge University and the Open University, respectively, maintain, Drer's Four Horsemen informed the sense of apocalyptic dread that permeated European society from about 1490 until 1648, when the end of the 30 Years War brought about a more stabilized society that no longer used the Apocalypse as its defining paradigm. Drer, of course, was not the first artist to create an image of the Apocalypse. However, the authors argue compellingly that what made Drer's image resonate so strongly with his contemporaries (and with generations of artists afterward) was that it showed all of the horsemen arriving together, thus unifying the three horsemen representing the crises of war, famine, disease and death with the rider of the white horse, who represented Judgment Day, an event feared daily by the men and women of the Middle Ages. Unlike authors who approach medieval European history from various, discrete lenses (e.g., military history, social history, Reformation history), Cunningham and Grell aver that they offer a more comprehensive understanding of the medieval worldview. Their effort, following the lead of Norman Cohen's defining Pursuit of the Millennium, provides an enlightening and valuable contribution to the study of the role of eschatology in the early modern world that will hold much interest for students of that period. 71 illus. (Mar. 1) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this new interpretation of European history, Cunningham and Grell (coeditors, Health Care and Poor Relief in Counter-Reformation Europe) contend that the four horsemen of Albrecht Drer's famous 1498 woodcut prefigure the religious conflict, war, famine, and pestilence that characterized the 16th and 17th centuries. According to the authors, church leaders' expectations of repeated European disasters can best be described as apocalyptic. The white horse represents religious conflicts among Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims of the Ottoman Empire; the red horse typifies two centuries of exhausting warfare; the black horse denotes centuries of famine owing to war and overpopulation; and the pale horse represents pestilence owing to all of the above. In support of this grim scenario, the authors offer reprints of 74 woodcuts depicting some of the most gruesome and grotesque images of this period of early modern history. The reader certainly gets the feeling that the book overstates its case. Historians today recognize that wars in these centuries were as much political as they were religious, while wars after 1648 were often as much religious as they were political. Recommended for academic libraries with large research collections. James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Developed from Cambridge University lectures, this work presents a stimulating interpretation of the period c.1490-1648, taking as its point of departure Albrecht Durer's famous 1498 woodcut illustration. The "Four Horsemen" theme is presented as reflecting both the realities and perceptions of crisis in that age. Separate chapters discuss the explosion of religious fervor and prophetic awareness in the Reformation (white horse), the intensification and growing destructiveness of war (red horse), the desperation wrought by dearth and famine (black horse), and decimation by diseases both old and new (pale horse). The rampant apocalyptic fears and visions of that time were not merely the products of such experiences, but provided the very framework by which they were understood. While their emphasis is on Protestant Europe, the authors view apocalyptic apprehension as a pan-European phenomenon. Ultimately (and inconsistently) they propose rapid population growth and its attendant pressures as the fundamental reason for the crises and for the apocalyptic mentality itself. Mainly a digest and synthesis of recent studies rather than a work of original scholarship, the book should serve as an effective tool for capturing student interest in the early modern era. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. B. Barnes Davidson College

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: an apocalyptic age
2 The White Horse: religion, revelation and reformation
3 The Red Horse: war, weapons and wounds
4 The Black Horse: food, f(e)ast and famine
5 The Pale Horse: disease, disaster and death
6 Epilogue