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AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD, Howard Finster, 1976
But keep your eyes below us, for coming near
Is the river of blood—in which boils everyone
Whose violence hurt others.’ O blind desire
Of covetousness, O anger gone insane—
That goad us on through life, which is so brief,
To steep in eternal woe when life is done.” 
-Canto XII of Dante’s Inferno; First Ring of the Seventh Circle

According to Dante’s Inferno, a boiling river of blood runs through the 7th Circle of Hell full of the souls of those who drew the blood of others in their lives. These shades of the world’s murderers are kept submerged in their agonizing baptism by Chiron, the centaur who trained Achilles, and his legion of horse-men. While Dante and Virgil are led by Chiron along the crimson river, Dante recognizes the faces of many infamous men, such as Atilla the Hun and well-known Italian war lords of Dante’s time. And if these murderers try to climb out of the river, the centaurs pelt them with arrows and kick them back into the current of boiling blood. Though being fantastically utilized, Dante borrows his river of blood imagery from older Christian texts that artist/preacher Howard Finster also depicts in his paintings.

Finster's AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD portrays a scene from the Book of Revelations, the final book of the Bible that discusses the apocalypse. In the Book of Revelations, Angels on God’s command turn all the water into blood, which kills all the living creatures in the sea. God does this because he wishes to punish those who “have shed the blood of the holy ones and the prophets, and [the angels that have] given them blood to drink; it is what they deserve” (Revelations, 16: 6). The origin of Dante’s river of blood could possibly be taken from chapter 16 in Revelations. But one cannot know for certain; but like a good student, Finster clearly cites his sources.

Bible quotes label every little action occurring in AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD, which is a common feature of Finster’s work. Finster believed God came to him in visions and told him to spread His word through art. One such vision occurred when Finster examined a spot of wet paint on his finger. Staring back up at him was a face. This face told Finster to make 5,000 paintings, which would preach the Word of God. So Finster warns his viewers what could become of them in the end days as Dante warns his readers what awaits them in the afterlife. Of course, the idea of drinking blood appears more than once in Christian theology.

Every Sunday, Christians drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Some Christians believe that the Eucharist symbolizes the body and blood, while others believe it to be the literal flesh of Christ. Churchgoers consume the wine/blood because this will cure them of their human inclination towards sin and grant them entrance into Heaven. Finster places a winepress full of blood in AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD while Dante places Dionysius (the Greek god of wine) in his river of blood. The connection between wine and blood exists in both works. The blood of Christ (wine) and water for baptism are essential to the life a Christian and these two sacred liquids have been taken away in AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD and Dante’s Inferno. The sinners in Revelations must consume the Blood of God while the murders in Hell must forever be baptized in a pool of boiling blood.

Besides dealing with theology, Finster also plays with symmetry in AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD. Finster cuts the painting in two equal halves between the sea of blood and the piece of dry land with a blurry white border. It makes AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD look like two different paintings smashed together, similar to the borders between the Circles of Hell within Inferno. The portions put together create the whole. Each half of the painting has an upper blue or gray level with two round shapes in them. In the upper half, these orbs are the sun and the moon. In the lower portion, the orbs are the wine press and fountain of blood. All four spheres are objects being tampered with by the angels. And then blood borders the lower portions of the painting. Symmetry also exists between the two angels spilling their vials into the seas. These are the two rivers of blood within the first and second circles of AND THE MOON BECAME AS BLOOD

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