The visual arts, since a time long forgotten, have been our greatest means of interpreting a time of war in a light of great glory and strategic detail, or in a darkness of chaos and disgust. Indeed, many works have been dedicated to showing us the beauty and the ugliness, the order and the disorder, the kleos and the lack thereof, in war. The visual arts are a dynamic interpretation of an event, the artifactualization of a perspective unique to the piece and to the event in a way that words can sometimes fail to do. Such is the case with the Sacking of Magdeburg, a historical event during the thirty years war that many pieces of glory and chaos pertain to in such a manner that even the mayor of Magdeburg could not do as he watched flames and soldiers alike engulf his city. The visual arts are the most adept tools at our disposal for understanding different perspectives of war, as seen with the Sacking of Magdeburg.
The Visual Arts can often provide insight to an event that can “encapsulate” the feelings and ideas behind that event in a way much different then just the written work (Izenburg). Indeed, a visual art depicting war shows not just an image, but an entire range of perspectives that are being conveyed to a viewer to relate a message. The work, “The Sacking of Magdeburg”, provides the viewer one such an example where the true destruction and violence are depicted, capturing the graphic nature of this horrifying event in such a way that it was claimed how “words alone cannot adequately describe these acts nor tears adequately bemoan them” (Guericke). This is not only an image of a town burning to the ground, of an act of violence across a shaded background, but the very encapsulation of the horror being expressed in a way that can only be described as heart wrenching. Smoke filling the air, people being razed down by cannon fire, endless destruction and ruin all in an image meant to show just how horrifying this tragic nightmare is in a manner to show the underside of war. This depiction is Merian’s way of describing to the audience how a war truly is: monstrous.
That is not to say, however, that all depictions of war are these grisly scenes of dismay and disorder. Many a depiction look at war in a manner to show that there is glory and triumph to be found in war and the fight. These depictions in the visual arts will often look down upon a battle, making the viewer seem almost godlike as they watch all of the finer pieces of war. For the same event described above, another work was made with the same title by the student of the above artist. This work shows a more graceful and majestic side to a war that many look upon with a feeling of pride. These Visual pieces work to encapsulate this idea of war as a maker of the kleos, the undying glory of a hero.
Thus, we have our perspectives detailing to us how the visual arts conceptualize the different perspectives of war. These pieces, such radically different views of the same event, only prove that the arts are a means to understand different viewpoints of war and what a war stands for, or what it stands to gain. The purpose of these images, their “ekphrasis”, is to define an event to a viewer in such a manner to capture these virtually opposing views. The visual arts, then, are our gateway into what can be either a graceful ordeal of miniature men walking into each other and the world around them gently accepting their scuffle, or a tormented hell where the only respite for the living is often death as chaos paints the air with a miasma of horror.
Izenburg, Oren. “The Ends of the Iliad.” Humanities Core. HIB 100, Irvine. 13
Oct. 2015. Lecture.
Merian, Matthaus. The Sacking of Magdeburg. 1632. Illustration.
Abelin, Johann Philipp. The Sacking of Magdeburg. Apr. 1659. Illustration.
Von Guericke, Otto. “A Local Apocalypse – The Sack of Magdeburg.” 1631. German
History in Documents and Image. German History in Documents and Image. Web.
27 Oct. 2015. <http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/