The biblical story of the Deluge, which only the God-fearing Noah survived with his clan and a selection of pairs of animals in his ark, has developed a lively history of reception and impact right up to the present day. The word »Sintflut« (Deluge) comes from the Old High German »sinvluot«, where »Sin-« means »always, everywhere«. Only in the 15th century did it become »Sündflut« (»sunden vlute«).

And the deluge was upon the earth forty days, and the waters increased and lifted up the ark, and carried it up upon the earth. And the waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated upon the waters. [...] All that had breath of life on the dry land that died.

1. Mose 7, 17-22

The narrative material of a Deluge can be found in many, especially very old, cultures: in the Ancient Orient and in Greek-Roman antiquity, but also among the Celts, the Germanic peoples, in India and China as well as among the Indian cultures of North America.

The description of the growing of the waters follows a three-step increase: first the place of the ark is under water, then the ark is lifted, and finally all high mountains are covered with water - the flood is omnipresent. This is followed by the disappearance of all life in three stages: All life goes under, dies and disappears from the earth.

It is a silent catastrophe: without storm, thunderstorm or earthquake.

If one follows the depictions of the Ark in the Flood over the centuries, an imaginative and detailed picture emerges. The present edition is the eleventh edition of the Luther Bible from the famous Wittenberg printing house of Hans Lufft (1495-1584) and the fourth edition after the edition of Martin Luther's last hand from 1545. In this Luther Bible, the ark is represented as a box, as in the original biblical text.

Biblia: Das ist: die gantze heilige Schrifft: Deudsch. D. Mart. Luth. Auffs new zugericht.
Wittenberg : Lufft, 1548.
BFSt: 9 A 5

In the Middle Low German Lübeck Bible of 1494, the ark is depicted with a ship's hull.

The Middle Low German Lübeck Bible of 1494 is considered the most important vernacular Bible before the Reformation. August Hermann Francke acquired this incunabulum in 1705 during his trip to Holland in The Hague.

It can be assumed that he was interested in this bible not only because of its age and the descriptive woodcuts, but also because it was printed in Lübeck, his birthplace.

Bibel, niederdeutsch (1494)
De Biblie mit vtlitigher achtinghe [...].
Lübeck : Steffen Arndes, 19. Nov. 1494.
BFSt: 7 A 7

Construction Plan of the Ark

In the center of the woodcut is the ark. The animals are located in the hull of a ship or protrude through a hatch from the roof. Noah and his wife stand harmoniously at the stern of the ship and look out over the roaring sea, where humans and animals fight for their lives.

There are 250 known prints by the Nuremberg printer and bookseller Anton Koberger (ca. 1440-1513), in whose printing workshop Schedel's World Chronicle with about 1,800 woodcut illustrations was produced. After he completely stopped his own printing activities in 1504, he had three works printed by Jacques Sacon (born around 1472) in Lyon, including the Latin Bible from 1513 presented here.

Bibel, lateinisch (1513)
Sanctus Hieronymus enterpres biblie […].
Lyon : Sacon ; Nürnberg : Koberger, 1513.
BFSt: 45 A 3

This illustration of the ark is captivating due to the textual representation as a three-storey box. The focus is not on man and animal, as they fight for their lives in the floods, but rather a sober guide to the construction plan of the ark is given, as if one wanted to prepare contemporaries for the end of the world around 1700.

In Nuremberg, the Endter family had been printing Luther Bibles since 1613. By 1792, 76 verifiable editions had appeared in this successful enterprise. Duke Ernst von Sachsen-Gotha-Altenburg (1601-1675), known as the Pious, commissioned the printing of a Luther Bible in 1641 with text revised and supplemented by Thuringian theologians. All editions of this extremely popular work are called Kurfürstenbibel, Weimarer Bibel or Ernestinisches Bibelwerk. The illustrations could be added and supplemented according to the financial means and wishes of the customer. Among other things, this bible was equipped with numerous explanatory copper engravings, such as the detailed picture description of Noah's Ark.

Biblia, Das ist: Die gantze H. Schrifft, Altes und Neues Testaments […].
Nürnberg : Endter, 1692.
BFSt: 1 A 9

The depiction of the Flood, like most flood paintings, presents Noah's Ark with a round, heavily curved hull, and a tree that people climb to escape the water.
In this early children's Bible, the ark is staged as a massive, swaying ship on a raging sea.

The depiction of the Deluge shown here, like most flood paintings, presents Noah's Ark with a round, strongly curved hull, and a tree that people climb to escape the water. This form of ark was introduced by Johann Bocksperger (1525/35-1587), after whose drawings, cut by the Zurich master Jost Amman (1539-1591), Sigmund Feyerabend (1528-1590) printed a picture album of the whole Bible in Frankfurt in 1564. The large woodcuts were subsequently included in many folio bibles.

Biblia, Das ist: Die gantz Heylige Schrifft, Teutsch. D. Mart. Luth.
Sampt einem Register, Summarien, vber alle Capittel, vnd schönen Figuren.
Frankfurt am Main : Rab ; Feyerabend ; Han, 1564
BFSt: 8 A 4

In this early children's Bible, too, the ark is staged as a huge, swaying ship on a roaring sea. The depiction of the strong, incessant rain that caused the flood is impressive. For educational reasons, the illustration is combined with a rhymed motto:
Ah! see how everything will pass away,
Let us stand in true repentance.

Kratzenstein, Christoph Heinrich: Kinder- und Bilder-Bibel das ist: Auszug Biblischer Historien [...]. [Theil 1.]
Erfurt : Sauerländer, 1767.
BFSt: 65 B 8

The engraver Matthäus Merian the Elder (1593-1650) chose a different motif and did not show the ark superficially, but the struggle of man and animal in the thundering waters trying to reach the saving shore.

In 1630, the engraver Matthäus Merian the Elder (1593-1650) published a full Bible in Martin Luther's translation of 1545, which he equipped with personally made copper etchings. This work, known as the Merian Bible, is regarded as a highlight of 17th century Bible and book illustration. The Bible presented here was printed in 1704 by Merian's heirs using the original copper engravings from Merian's first illustrated Bible.

Biblia, das ist Die gantze heilige Schrift [...].
Frankfurt am Main : Merians Erben, 1704
BFSt: 73 A 8

Chapter selection

Die Darstellung der Sintflut präsentiert wie die meisten Flutbilder die Arche Noah mit einem runden, stark geschweiften Schiffsrumpf, und einen Baum, den Menschen besteigen, um dem Wasser zu entkommen.

The Deluge

Lot und seine beiden Töchter verlassen die Stadt, die im Hintergrund brennt.

Sodom and Gomorra

Doré verwendete gerne die Chiaroscuro-Technik, die hell-dunkle Malerei kontrastiert. Diese Technik wurde in der vorliegenden Illustration zur dreitägigen Finsternis meisterhaft ausgeführt.

The Plagues of Egypt

The Revelation of John

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