Vox populi: Visual rhetoric methodology for medieval Apocalyptic Art




Rodriguez, Dixil

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Texas Woman's University


Apocalypticism has been a major element in faiths and religions worldwide. The influence of the Christian Apocalypse in Western philosophy, spirituality, religion, imagery, iconography, and social thought is present in almost every form of visual rhetoric we know: photography, art, paintings, sculptures, illuminations, and cinematography. Christian Art is permeated with images of the Apocalypse. Particularly the art of the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the Book of Revelation was seen as a text to be interpreted for a specific audience in need of the cryptic message. The "interpreter" was the Catholic Church, who claimed to have the vox Dei (voice of God) and was privy to the apocalypse to come. The audience was the populi, the individuals that comprised the medieval towns and were not members of the church or the monarchy. The Catholic Church embarked on a visual rhetoric campaign in order to convert the populi into Christianity. The visual artifact of choice: The Book of Revelation. The Catholic Church did not foresee that the populi would present a visual rhetoric counterargument to the apocalyptic images introduced for conversion purposes. The monstrous images of the populi served not only as counter arguments to the Catholic Church's elegant artistic renditions of the apocalypse, the images also served as a claiming of identity and voice by the populi: the vox populi. Apocalyptic art of the populi was a response, an utterance, to what the religious hegemony was imposing in terms of ideology and socially prescribed identity. The images presented by the populi in the Middle Ages were a visual rhetoric argument towards social change and reform outside the religious milieu.

The focus of this study is to introduce a visual methodology process that can provide an artistic rubric (stemming from visual rhetoric theory) from which to analyze specific Apocalyptic Art outside the strictures of a religious milieu. The methodology uses the classical argument to demonstrate the visual rhetoric tools used to deliver the message of the apocalypse.



Religion, Philosophy, Art Criticism, Art history, Rhetoric, Medieval history, Visual perception, Christians, Catholicism