Doom paintings  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A Doom or hellscape is a painting of the Last Judgment, an event in Christian eschatology. Christ judges souls, and then sends them to either Heaven or Hell. Many Dooms survive in medieval churches dating from around the 12th to 16th centuries, although they were virtually standard in churches from much earlier than that.

Dooms were used to remind medieval Christians of the afterlife and Judgment Day, and to help keep them mindful of sinning by showing in graphic detail the dramatic difference between Heaven and Hell. A Doom was usually sited either on the rear (Western) wall, if that had a suitable space, or at the front (Chancel end) of a church, often on the Chancel arch itself, so that it would be constantly in view of worshipers as they looked towards the Priest during services.

Although there are many different versions, the theme's format stays broadly the same. On the left side of a Doom painting (that is, on Christ's right hand) is Heaven, whilst on the right is Hell. At the top of the image Jesus Christ sits in glory with his (proper - ie on the left to the viewer) right hand encouraging the saved up and his left hand pointing down to Hell for the damned. Typically flanking him is the Virgin Mary on his right and John the Apostle on his left, sometimes with the twenty-four elders mentioned in the Book of Revelation encircling the three of them. The angels blow their trumpets to raise the dead for judgment. Commonly the Archangel Michael is in the centre, with the scales he will use to weigh the souls of humanity to see if individually they are fit for Heaven: one person is on one side of the scale while demonic creatures that represent the sins committed by the person are on the other side of the scale. The creatures try to tip the scales in their favour while, in some versions of the painting, The Virgin Mary places a rosary next to the person she wishes to protect, or puts her hand on the scale to counterbalance the demons.

Those who are worthy are brought to the gates of Heaven, frequently represented by a castle with large walls built to keep out sinful impurities. This is most commonly depicted on the left hand side of Doom paintings. Groups of angels adorn the walls of Heaven celebrating the Saved as they approach Heaven's gates, where Saint Peter waits with his keys.

Those on the other side of the painting, unworthy of Heaven, are seized by demons and brought into the Hellmouth, beyond which, mostly out of sight, lie the bowels of Hell where endless pain and suffering await them. The mouth of Hell is usually represented by a huge monster (Leviathan) with its fiery mouth open wide to receive the Damned being forced into it. In some cases the demons have chains tied around the Damned who are helplessly pulled in, while in others the Damned are dragged or carried. In yet other cases the Damned are brought into Hell in wheelbarrows or baskets.


Hellscapes are a category of painting and visual art which depicts hell, depicted in scenes such as the last judgement, often featuring the devil. Famous examples include the right interior panel of the The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch and the The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. A 20th century intepretation is The Funeral by Georg Grosz.

In graphics there is als Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Doom paintings" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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