I don't think it's too much of a conjecture to suggest that we live in a culture deeply enthralled by the "Eschaton," the authentic or imaginary future moment spelling the end of the world as we know it. The Eschaton meme is expressed in a myriad of positive and negative visions; disastrous environmental collapse, a "peak-oil" induced slow death of post-industrial civilization, planetary destruction through forces of nature (esp. meteors), supernatural apocalypse, Kurzweilean "Singularlity," Aquarian mystical awakening, the cosmological "heat death" of the universe etc. This year's Superbowl featured a post-apocalyptic truck ad, and this summer we'll be subjected to a romantic comedy starring Steve Carrel and Keira Knightley on this very theme. A romantic comedy. I rest my case.
I've long found the Eschaton meme fascinating. I believe that its pervasiveness stems in part from the worldwide spread of apocalyptic Middle Eastern religious ideas, most of which incorporate end times notions as an essential component of their doctrines . Although I don't believe that a literal "end times" event is on the horizon in any meaningful way (our Sun will continue living for billions of years), it is clear that facets of contemporary human culture - religious and secular - are being steered by a explicit or subconscious vision of future events, the sort of events that shove big bumps into the momentum of history. Hence, the archetypal eschaton radiates its influence backwards through human history from its indeterminate place in the future, acting, as Terence McKenna phrased it, as a kind of "transcendental object at the end of time." Pretty nifty.
It's notable to me that a friend of a friend saw this image on Facebook and left a single comment, "2012." To her, it connoted the Mayan 2012 meme. It was only then that I consciously understood how this painting related to my fascination with humanity's end times thinking. So, thanks to Juno Brown for that!