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Image of Bridge Over Chaos

John Martin
English, 1789–1854

Bridge Over Chaos


Object Type: Print
Creation Place: Northern Europe, English
7 9/16 in. x 10 5/8 in. (19.21 cm x 26.99 cm)
Medium and Support: Mezzotint on paper
Accession Number: 2000.0008.0001

Credit Line: Gift of the Weil Print Endowment in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Sr.

“Bridge Over Chaos” is perhaps John Martin’s best-known composition from “Paradise Lost”, derived from Book 10 and showing Satan, Sin, and Death dwarfed by an enormous stone chasm, with a bridge of rock leading toward a tunnel of light. The artist exploits the strength of the mezzotint process—an ability to reproduce very rich darks contrasted with brilliant lights—to convey the poem’s major theme: the battle of good versus evil.

As with Martin’s paintings, the artist’s dramatic interpretation of the subject matter was key to the success of the publications. The pre-publication advertising emphasized the originality of the designs—typically during this era illustrations of this type were reproductions of other compositions made originally in oil. In this case, Martin created all but one of the illustrations as original mezzotints but he followed his practice of composing for a visually dramatic result. Scholar J. Dustin Wees notes: “The sweeping elements; the chaos comes again; the wonders of that Heaven and Hell which existed before earth was made, are magnificently embodied….”

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