John Martin, The Fall of Babylon, a mezzotint with etching

England, AD 1831

'The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain...', Jeremiah (51:58)

John Martin (1789-1854) first interpreted the biblical scene of the destruction of Babylon in a huge painting exhibited at the British Institution in 1819.

He was keen to make prints after his paintings, as a 'means which would enable the public to see my productions, and give me a chance of being remunerated for my labours'. Martin did not see his prints just as commercial reproductions, but as works of art in their own right. He took personal responsibility for every stage of print production. He even inked his own plates, a job which was normally left to specialist printers.

The mezzotint was the ideal medium for creating painterly effects. A metal plate (usually copper but in this case steel) is evenly roughened with a serrated 'rocker' that would print as a dark area if inked up. A design is formed by burnishing down the plate to create smooth areas that print as light tones. This process creates dramatic chiaroscuro (light and shade), which well suited the drama of Martin's apocalyptic subject matter.

The eccentric, English dilettante, William Beckford wrote:

'I have been three times running to the exhibition ... to admire 'The Capture of Babylon' by Martin. He adds the greatest distinction to contemporary art. Oh, what a sublime thing.'

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More information


M.J. Campbell, John Martin: visionary printma (City Art Gallery, York, 1992)

A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)

F. Carey (ed.), The Apocalypse and the shape o (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Height: 464.000 mm
Width: 719.000 mm

Museum number

PD Mm.10-6


Gift of the artist (1833)


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