In 1941, Beckmann was commissioned to illustrate the Book of Revelation from the New Testament. With Europe engulfed in war, St John’s vision of the end of the world seemed dreadfully real. The sound of detonations and the sight of corpses had become part of everyday life, and since German troops had invaded Holland in the spring of 1940, Beckmann himself faced possible arrest. Readily identifying with the tormented souls of the Apocalypse, he included his own self-portrait among the victims.

In addition, Beckmann was attracted to the cryptic symbolism in the Book of Revelation. His paintings of the time similarly incorporate mythological and hermetic imagery. Recognising a fellow visionary, Beckmann lent his own features to the face of St John.