Martin's vivid paintings of biblical, historical and literary themes, often on very large canvases, feature richly imaginative and spectacular settings for the human dramas depicted. The small scale of his figures contributes to the sense of them being overwhelmed by the landscape and forces surrounding them. Martin began his career as a painter of heraldry for a coach-builder in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He then worked in London as a painter on china and glass, before finally gaining acceptance as a history painter through the Royal Academy exhibitions in 1811. He also produced book illustrations and engravings.