'And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war'. (Revelation 19: 11)
The Revelation of Saint John exercised a profound impact on the artistic imagination of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Its apocalyptic atmosphere resonated with a population ravaged by the Black Death and increasingly divided by religious sectarianism. As a narrative of a vision it is the most pictorial text of the Bible, lending itself to dramatic visual interpretation. Like many other artists at the time, Jean Duvet was inspired by Albrecht Durer's Apocalypse, published in 1498 (see lots 7 and 8). Stylistically, however, it reveals the classicising influence of the Italian Renaissance, particularly the work of Marcantonio Raimondi, which he integrated into his own visionary style.
Duvet was a goldsmith in the court of Francis I and Henri II and is recorded as being responsible for orchestrating ceremonial pageants, including the triumphal entry of Francis I into the city of Langres in 1533. Colin Eisler has suggested that the Apocalypse figurée with its procession of triumphal imagery, reflects the pomp of the court of Fontainebleau. The image is redolent of royal splendour as Christ, 'crowned with many crowns', surrounded by a heavenly multitude, goes to war against his enemies. Eisler has also noted that the position of the sword emerging from Christ's mouth, traditionally interpreted as the Word of God, is suggestive of a unicorn's horn. Duvet was particularly interested in the mythical beast, to the extent that he was known as 'The Master of the Unicorn'. The mythical qualities of a unicorn's horn, which rendered water poisoned by a serpent drinkable, was regarded as an allegory of salvation, in which Christ's death renders sin impotent, defeats the devil, and brings about eternal life.
Examples of this series both with and without text are known. Comparing the two, the impressions without text are richer and therefore probably earlier. Impressions with text, published in 1561, five years after the plates were completed, clearly show signs of wear. It may have been that the series was originally conceived as a purely visual narrative and that a text edition was the response to a decline in quality.