Francis Danby, Irish, 1793-1861
Title: The Opening of the Sixth Seal
Date: 1828
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
185 x 255 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 1871
Object Number: NGI.162
DescriptionThis example of grand Romanticism illustrates a section from the Book of Revelations (6:12-17), in which, on the opening by God of the sixth seal on a scroll, the earth is rent and mankind descends into disarray. The sun becomes black and the heavens collapse; a king slumps among now worthless symbols of his sovereignty (crown and sceptre), people cower in fear of the wrath of God, and a city falls to rubble in the background.
Danby’s conspicuous departure from the biblical text is his topical reference to slavery. To the left of the composition is a crouching ?gure, similar to that adopted as the symbol of the abolitionist movement, and towards the centre a standing, liberated slave, who breaks the shackles around his wrists. The latter ?gure answers the question posed at the end of the biblical verse:‘For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?’ The slave trade had been discontinued in 1807 in Britain but the Bill for the abolition of slavery itself was not passed until 1833. Danby had no particularly strong feelings for the religious subject, but was opposed to slavery and recognised a prevailing appetite for the apocalyptic in art. He excelled at describing dramatic phenomena in nature, from spectacular sunsets to lightning storms. The painting proved the most popular work at the Royal Academy in London in 1828, though, contrary to expectation, its success did not lead to Danby’s full membership of the Academy.

March 2016
ProvenanceBought from the Artist by William Beckford, 1828; sold in 1832 or 1833; Mr John W. Brett, 1843; Christie's, 24 April 1847, lot 107, bought in; Francis Edwards, 1857; purchased, Christie's, London, 1871, J. Griffiths Sale
Exhibition HistoryRoyal Academy of Arts, London, 1828

Academy of Fine Arts, Barclay Street, London, 1833

Bristol Institution, Bristol, 1835-36

Bristol Institution, Bristol, 1843

Rochdale, 1843

Art Treasures, Manchester, 1857

Works by Irish Painters, Guildhall, London, 1904

The First Hundred Years of the Royal Academy, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1951-1952

Francis Danby, 1793-1861, City Art Gallery, Bristol, 9 September - 7 October 1961; City Art Gallery, Birmingham, 14 October - 5 November 1961; City Art Gallery, Bradford, 11 November - 2 December 1961

The Bristol School of Artists, Francis Danby and Painting in Bristol 1810-1840, City Art Gallery, Bristol, 4 September - 10 November 1973


James Arthur O'Connor, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, November - December 1985; The Ulster Museum, Belfast, February - March 1986; Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, March - April 1986

Francis Danby 1793-1861, Tate Gallery, London; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, 1988

Lines of Vision. Irish Writers at the National Gallery of Ireland, 8 October 2014 —12 April 2015
Label TextThis example of grand Romanticism illustrates a section from the Book of Revelation (6:12-17), in which, on the opening by God of the Sixth Seal on a scroll, the earth is split open and mankind descends into disarray. Danby’s conspicuous departure from the biblical text is his inclusion of a crouching figure, similar to that adopted as the symbol of the Abolitionist movement, and a standing, liberated slave, who breaks the shackles around his wrists. The slave trade had been discontinued in 1807 in Britain but the Bill for the abolition of slavery itself was not passed until 1833.