Samuel Colman (or Coleman)

The Destruction of the Temple


Not on display

Samuel Colman (or Coleman) 1780–1845
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1356 × 1965 mm
frame: 1452 × 2057 × 65 mm
Purchased 1975

Display caption

Like John Martin, Colman specialised in apocalyptic paintings. Colman was a Nonconformist: a Protestant who opposed the Established Church, in this case the Church of England. Not surprisingly, this painting shows the embodiment of state-run religion – a Gothic cathedral – being destroyed, with its inhabitants cowering in terror. Resurrected spirits rise from the ground and assemble in the sky above. The cathedral’s stone cross, representing established religion, crashes to the ground, silhouetted by a blood-red horizon. Meanwhile the true cross, the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and of eternal life and here representing pure faith, appears in the brilliant celestial light.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T01980 The Destruction of the Temple c.1830-40 Not inscribed

Oil on canvas, 53 5/16 x77 1/8 (135.5X 196.5) Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1975

Coll '. ..; Thomas Peake; by descent (as by John Martin) to his great-grandson T. H. Nash-Peake, from whom purchased

Lit: F. Greenacre, The Bristol School of Artists, 1973; R. Parkinson, Samuel Colman: Four Apocalyptic Themes, Tate Gallery, n.d. [1976]

T01980 was formerly inscribed at the bottom right with the letters 'I.M.', presumably for John Martin, which were removed during cleaning. The attribution to Samuel Colman is indicated by its close relationship, in style and subject matter, to three other paintings, which are also almost identical in size. There is no evidence that the four pictures were intended as a series, or that they were painted at the same period of time. 'The Edge of Doom' (Brooklyn Museum, New York; signed and dated twice 'S. Colman 183[?6]' and'S. Colman 183[?8]', 54x78 ½ in.) illustrates the prophecy of the end of the world in Shakespeare's The Tempest Act 4, scene 1. 'The coming of the Redeemer and the destruction of Babylon' (City Art Gallery., Bristol; signed 'S. Colman', 54x 75 in.) depicts the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah. 'The Delivery of Israel out of Egypt' (City Art Gallery, Birmingham; falsely inscribed 'John Martin 1830', 53 ¾ X78 ¾ in:) illustrates chapter 14 of Exodus, an event prophesied by Joseph in Genesis.

T01980 seems to illustrate passages from The Gospel According to St Matthew, particularly Christ's prophecy of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Christ refers to the Old Testament prophecy of Daniel that the Messiah and then Jerusalem would be destroyed: 'immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other' (chapter 24, verses 29-31). Colman refers on the right of the painting to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins related in the next chapter of St Matthew. He also combines Christ's prophecy with the depiction of events surrounding the Crucifixion; in the centre foreground are the soldiers playing dice for Christ's robe, a centurion with the crown of thorns and a broken lance, Pontius Pilate washing his hands, and Judas Iscariot with a noose around his neck and the pieces of silver. In the left and right foreground 'the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose' and in the background 'the earth did quake, and the rocks rent' (St Matthew, chapter 27, verses 51-2). The theme of prophecy fulfilled is emphasised by the figures waving or perusing scrolls, one of which is clearly marked 'PROPHICIES' (sic)..

The date of T01980 remains a problem. The two dates on the Brooklyn picture are not clear; when the painting was thought to be by the' American painter Samuel Colman (1832-1920), the dates were read as 1886 and 1888. The powerful movement of great masses in the avalanche at the left of the Brooklyn picture suggest that it was painted after John Martin's 'The Great Day of His Wrath' (1853, first exhibited 1854), and the overturned carriage-a Brougham-on the right is of a type not in common use until after about 1850. On the other hand, the contemporary costumes'worn by figures on the right of T01980 date from the 1830s. Also, the emphasis on prophecy displayed in the subjects of all four pictures may well be connected with the phenomenal popularity in the l820s of the preacher Edward Irving (1792-1834), whose sermons, many of which were

published, concentrated on the predictions of the Old Testament prophets and the Book of Revelation, and particularly predictions of destruction and devastation. It is possible, as Francis Greenacre has suggested (op. cit., p.204), that the paintings were commissioned by a Non-conformist, belonging to a sect such as the Catholic Apostolic Church founded by Irving. The Brooklyn painting is said to have been bought by an American in the late nineteenth century, and America shared with Britain a taste for non-conformism as well as for Apocalyptic pictures.

The subject of T01980 may be more complex than suggested above, as various incidents in the picture do not seem to be derived from the Biblical narrative. It may also have a contemporary meaning. If details such as the doomed priests in their robes, some holding crooks or censers, the priest holding a 'Book of Martyrs' and the altarpiece depicting the Immaculate Conception which tumbles from the wall, indicate anti-Catholic feeling, it may well be that the church on the right, which withstands the devastation, represents the True Church. It is noticeable that the walls of this church are covered with a vine; Christ is recorded, in St. John's Gospel (chapter 15, verse 1), as saying 'I am the true Vine'.

The painting has been retitled in the light of research into the subject matter; when it was thought by the previous owner's family to be by John Martin, it was known as 'The Fall of Babylon' or 'The Last Judgment'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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