Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Man or Woman 3: St. John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalen? -- Martyrdom, Miracles and Death of St. John the Evangelist

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil from Psalter
Netherlands (Ghent), 1250-1275
London, British Library
MS Burney 345, fol. 70r
Previously, we have examined the ways in which St. John the Evangelist is depicted as an evangelist and have demonstrated that the figure often seen holding a chalice is also a depiction of a legendary incident in the life of John.  Now we will look at some other images of John generally based on legendary accounts.
As previously mentioned, John is traditionally known to have died in old age.  His death is generally presumed to have taken place at Ephesus in what is now Turkey.  This death in old age is unique among the apostles, most of whom met violent deaths as martyrs.  There were, however, non-canonical (i.e., not Biblical) stories that said that John had indeed suffered martyrdom, but had survived his ordeals.  The story of his survival from poisoning inspired the account that provided the inspiration for the image of John holding the chalice that we looked at last.  He was also reputed to have been boiled in oil, once again by order of Emperor Domitian, but, like the Hebrews in the fiery furnace, to have emerged unhurt. 
 This tradition was already well established by the year 200 when it was included by Tertullian, the early Christian writer from North Africa, in his Prescription against heretics
Sarum Master, John the Evangelist Before
Domitian and Martyrdom in Boiling Oil
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 2
  “Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority (of apostles themselves). How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord's! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John's,1  where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!”










In the images of John’s martyrdom in the vat of boiling oil the figure is shown stripped.  Therefore there can be no question that this is a male figure.  However, in virtually all of them he is shown as the young, beardless man seen in the majority of images as evangelist and as the holder of the poisoned chalice.

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Psalter
German (Hildesheim), 1230-1240
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle Acquisition Latine 3102, fol. 3v

Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Breviary
French (Paris), 1345-1355
New York, Morgan Library
MS M75, fol. 424
Richard de Montbaston, Martyrdom of St. John
the Evangelist in Boiling Oil from
Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol. 122r



Bedford Master, Martyrdom of St. John Evangelist
in Boiling Oil, from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1430-1435
New York, Morgan Library
MS M359, fol. 13v









Anonymous, Martyrdom of St. John Evangelist
from  Book of Hours
French (Tours), 1505-1515
New York, Morgan Library
MS M250, fol. 137v



















































Charles le Brun
Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
at the Porta Latina
French, 1641-1642
Paris, Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet

Daniele Ricciarelli (known as Daniele da Volterra)
Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1550-1566
Douai, Musee de la Chartreuse
















There are also images of his preaching and miracles, which come from such apocryphal sources as the Acts of John and the later, popular, compilation of the Golden Legend.  There are tales of conversions and of raisings from the dead, as well as other miracles.  In all of these John is almost always depicted as the young, beardless man.


Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Preaching
and Overturning Idols at the Temple of Diana
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44r






 

Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Preaching
and Baptism of Drusiana
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 41v

Sarum Master, St. John Evangelist Returning to Ephesus
Raising of Drusiana and Miracle of the Two Poor Young Men
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais, 403, fol. 43v

Mahiet and Assistants, Miracle of the Two Poor Young Men
from Speculum historiale of Vincentius Bellovacensis
French (Paris), ca. 1335
Paris, Bibliotheque national de France
MS Arsenal 5080, fol. 119





















































































It is only in the rare images of the death of John, as related in the Acts of John, that we see him as an older bearded man.  
Sarum Master, Death of St. John Evangelist
from Bible
English (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44v (detail)
Note that John is shown here as bearded and with a tonsure, but
his soul, being carried to heaven by angels, is shown as
a beardless youth.

Jean Poyer, Death of St. John Evangelist
from Hours of Henry VIII
French (Tours), ca. 1500
New York, Morgan Library
MS H8, fol. 174r
Note that the bottom half of the page includes
an image from Revelations in which a
youthful John also holds the poisoned chalice.
Jean Jouvenet, Apotheosis of St. John the Evangelist
French, ca. 1702
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Yet, even here, where the soul of John is shown being received in heaven, that soul is the young, beardless man with whom the viewers were most familiar that is shown.

__________________________________________________ 
1.       Reference is to the death by beheading of both St. Paul and St. John the Baptist.

2.       Tertullian, Prescription against heretics, Chapter 36.  Translated by Peter Holmes. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0311.htm>.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Man or Woman 3: John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – The Figure With The Chalice



Statue of St. John the Evangelist in alabaster
Southern Netherlands or Northern France,
ca. 1450-1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the images of St. John the Evangelist that seems to have caused the most confusion in the contemporary mind is that in which the long-haired, beardless saint holds a chalice in his hand.  Some people say this is an image of Mary Magdalene holding the cup in which she caught the blood of Jesus as it dripped from His body on the cross (an incident not found in the Gospels).  Not so, for frequently, if one looks carefully, the cup held by the figure can be seen to contain something besides liquid.  Frequently, it includes the image of a tiny dragon or snake.  What does this mean and whom can it represent?  The answer is St. John the Evangelist.

The image of the saint holding the chalice from which issues a small dragon comes from a legend about St. John that appears to make its first recorded appearance in the late second century apocryphal (i.e., non-canonical) document known as the Acts of John.   This kind of document was fairly common in the centuries immediately following the apostolic age.  During this time many versions of the Christian story were in circulation, some with greater authority than others.  

Eventually, the Church, through a process of discussion and definition, settled by the end of the fourth century on the canonical New Testament that we know today.  Such documents as the Acts of John were largely forgotten until rediscovered in modern times.  They are frequently a mix of legend and fantasy, mixed with some actual historical content. 

Sarum Master, St. John Drinking the Poisoned Chalice
and Death of St. John the Evangelist
England (Salisbury), ca. 1250
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Francais 403, fol. 44v
Although the books themselves were often forgotten, some of the incidents that they recounted entered into the popular culture of Christianity and were carried forward through the centuries.  One of these is the story of St. John and the poisoned chalice.  The account in the Acts of John provides the initial details of the story of what happened, when St. John, brought to Rome to stand trial for his teachings, faced the Roman Emperor Domitian (son of Vespasian and brother of Titus, who reigned from 81-96 AD).

Giovanni di Benedetto and Assistants,
St. John the Evangelist Drinking Poison
from Book of Hours (for use of Friars Minor)
Italian (Milan), ca. 1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 289v
…Domitian said to him: What is the proof of these things? I am not persuaded by words only; words are a sight of the unseen. What can you show in earth or heaven by the power of him who is destined to reign, as you say. For he will do it, if he is the Son of God. And immediately John asked for a deadly poison. And the king having ordered poison to be given to him, they brought it on the instant. John therefore, having taken it, put it into a large cup, and filled it with water, and mixed it, and cried out with a loud voice, and said: In Your name, Jesus Christ, Son of God, I drink the cup which You will sweeten; and the poison in it do Thou mingle with Your Holy Spirit, and make it become a draught of life and salvation, for the healing of soul and body, for digestion and harmless assimilation, for faith not to be repented of, for an undeniable testimony of death as the cup of thanksgiving. And when he had drunk the cup, those standing beside Domitian expected that he was going to fall to the ground in convulsions. And when John stood, cheerful, and talked with them safe, Domitian was enraged against those who had given the poison, as having spared John.
But they swore by the fortune and health of the king, and said that there could not be a stronger poison than this. And John, understanding what they were whispering to one another, said to the king: Do not take it ill,
Francois and Assistants, St. John the Evangelist Drinks
The Poisoned Chalice from Speculum historiale by
Vincent of Beauvais
French (Paris), 1463
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Francais 50, fol. 368
O king, but let a trial be made, and you shall learn the power of the poison. Make some condemned criminal be brought from the prison. And when he had come, John put water into the cup, and swirled it round, and gave it with all the dregs to the condemned criminal. And he, having taken it and drunk, immediately fell down and died.1
Images of this event were, in the Middle Ages, replete with the details of the story, including the addition of a tiny dragon or snake protruding from the chalice to signify the presence of the poison..  The story became one of the incidents that constituted the "martyrdom" of St. John the Evangelist.  John was known to have died a natural death in old age, differing from the deaths of his fellow Apostles.  Pious thought desired to include him among the "white robed army of martyrs"2 and found justification in apocryphal incidents such as this, which could be counted as a form of martyrdom.  We will see additional incidents later.

By the beginning of the Renaissance and into the centuries beyond, the image of St. John holding the chalice became sufficient to remind people of the story.  It became, in effect, as much a symbol of St. John the Evangelist as the eagle or the book.
Jan van Eyck, St. John the Evangelist
Detail from Ghent Altarpiece
Netherlandish, ca. 1432
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo
St.  John the Evangelist from Book of Hours
French (Anjou or Brittany), 1440
New York, Morgan Library
MS M157, fol. 176r





















Juan de Juanes, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1445-1450
Private Collection
Hans Memling, St. John the Evangelist
Right wing of the Donne Triptych
Netherlandish, ca. 1475
London, National Gallery






















El Greco, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1610-1614
Toledo, Museo de El Greco
Peter Paul Rubens, St. John the Evangelist
Flemish, 1610-1612
Madrid, Museo del Prado




















Alonso Cano, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1636
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Jean Jouvenet, St. John the Evangelist
French, ca. 1740
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts




















Sometimes, all three symbols are included in the same image.
St. John the Evangelist
Stained Glass
French, 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jean Bourdichon, St. John the Evangelist
from Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale deFrance
MS Latin 10532, fol. 340






















Often the image serves to identify the saint among other saints.
Masters of the Gold Scrolls
Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist
from Book of Hours (use of Rome)
Netherlandish (Bruges), ca. 1420-1440
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS 133D14, fol. 7v
Hans Memling, St. John Altarpiece (central panel)
Netherlandish, 1474-1479
Bruges, Sint-Janshospital, Memlingmuseum
Stained Glass Heraldic Roundel with
Sts. John the Evangelist and Christina
South Netherlands, 1500-1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection


Dosso Dossi, Madonna and Child Appearing to
Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist
Italian, 1520s
Florence, Uffizi Museum
Jacob Jordaens, Sts. Andrew, John the Evangelist
and Paul
Flemish, 1650-1675
Lille, Musee des Beaux-Arts





















Sometimes, the chalice alone is sufficient to remind the viewer of the saint.
Hans Memling, The Poisoned Chalice
detail from the outer panel of Sts. John and Veronica Diptych
Netherlandish, ca. 1483
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art

This was still true during the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, but growing ignorance of Christian symbolism has now opened these images to gross misunderstanding. 
John Flaxman, St. John the Evangelist
Drawing, Brown Wash Over Graphite
English, ca. 1811
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
These are NOT images of Mary Magdalene!

_____________________________________________
1.       Apocryphal Acts of John Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
2.  Quotation from the Te Deum, a hymn of praise to God.  See http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/Te_Deum.htm

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Man or Woman 2: John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – Images of John as Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist
Enamel plaque
French (Limoges), 1175-1200
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The best starting point to find the true iconography of St. John the Evangelist is the way in which he is portrayed purely as an evangelist. In these images there can be no confusion of identities of male or female that might appear in other contexts.

 Evangelist portraits appear most prominently in manuscripts of the Gospels that pre-date the year 1000, especially in the great “luxury” codices 1 produced by the artists that served the Carolingian court in the 9th century AD.  While there may have been similar images that appeared in other art forms, only those in the manuscripts and similar small, precious objects have survived the centuries.

St. John the Evangelist from Harley Codex Aureus
German (Aachen), 800-825
London, British Library
MS Harley 2788, fol. 161v
Thesse images have their deep roots in author portraits that appeared frequently in pre-Christian works as the first image in a scroll or codex. With the appearance of the codex form it became logical to begin each of the four Gospel books with a “portrait” of its author. Thus we see portraits of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at the points at which their respective Gospels begin. Generally speaking, they are placed on the left hand page (the verso page, in manuscript terminology), facing the opening page of their respective Gospels. 
St. John the Evangelist from Codex Aureus of Lorsch
German (Lorsch), Before 814
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
MS Pal.lat.50, fol.67v


St. John the Evangelist from the Ebbo Gospels
French (Rheims), 816-841
Epernay, Bibliotheque Municipale
MS 1, fol. 135v
Here John is shown as a bearded elder and, unusually,
is shown writing on a scroll instead of the newer book
form of codex.
They are usually shown either in the act of writing their Gospel account or holding a codex (book) that represents it. In addition, they are frequently accompanied by their symbol. These symbols are based on the image of the four living creatures that support the throne of God as described in both the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:5-26) and the New Testament Book of Revelations (Revelation 4:6-8). The symbol associated with St. John as evangelist is the eagle.
In these “portraits” we can see that there is no particular defined image of St. John. He is shown as a young, beardless man in some and as an aged, bearded figure in others.

St. John the Evangelist from Book of Kells
Irish (Iona or Kells), ca. 800
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 291v
In the “insular” style of painting, found in Ireland and parts of Britain under Irish influence, the image is highly abstract,

St. John the Evangelist from the Book of Mulling
Irish, ca. 800
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 60, fol. 193v




















while in the images produced under the influence of the Carolingian court (Charlemagne and his immediate descendents and their circle) the images hark back to classical, late antique figures.

St. John the Evangelist
Ivory plaque
German (Aachen), 9th century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters




The Four Evangelists from the Aachen Treasury Gospels
German (Ada School), ca. 820
Aachen, Cathedreal Schatzkammer
Fol. 13r
Here St. John the Evangelist is shown as a bearded young
man, accompanied by the eagle, his symbol.  However, two
of the other evangelists, Mark and Luke, who are usually
portrayed as older, bearded, men are here depicted as
young and beardless. 























St. John the Evangelist in an enamel plaque
German (Rhine Valley), ca.  1175-1200
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
On this plaque John is not only named, but the words
he is shown to have written are the opening words of
the Gospel of John, "In the beginning was the word"
By the middle of the twelfth century, however, the image of the beardless (or nearly beardless) young man has become the dominant image of St. John as evangelist and remains so from then on. 


Jacopo Torritti, Sts. John the Baptist, John the Evangelist
and Anthony
Apse Mosaic from Santa Maria Maggiore
Italian, 1296
Rome, Church of Santa Maria Maggiore


St. John on Patmos from Biblie historiale of
Girard des Moulins
French,  beginning of the 15th century
Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
MS Arsenal 5058, fol. 558



Luca Signorelli, The Apostles Peter and John
Italian, 1477-1482
Loreto, Basilica of the Santa Casa

Further, the image of St. John as evangelist now appears in other media than the manuscript. 

Hieronymous Bosch, St. John on Patmos
Netherlandish, 1504-1505
Berlin, Staatliche Museen


Fra Bartolomeo, Vision of St. Bernard with
Sts. Benedict and John the Evangelist
Italian, 1504
Florence, Uffizi

Albrecht Duerer, Four Holy Men
(Sts. John the Evangelist, Peter, Mark and Paul)
German, 1526
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Dominichino, Madonna and Child with
Sts. John the Evangelist and Petronius
Italian, 1629
Rome, Galleria Nazionale dell'Arte Antica
Here the figure of St. John is definitively
identified by the pen and book , the eagle (embraced
by a putto at the bottom right) and the poisoned
chalice (held by another putto above St. John's
right hand) which we will explore in another article.


Francesco Furini, St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1630s
Lyons, Musee des Beaux-Arts






















Matthias Stomer, St. John the Evangelist
Dutch, 1640s
Rennes, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Alonso Cano, St. John the Evangelist
Spanish, 1646-1650
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

Camillo Rusconi, St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1714-1718
Rome, Basilica of St. John Lateran





















The few exceptions prove the rule. One interesting group is the series of frescoes in vaults that were produced by a series of Florentine artists from the mid-fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries.

Andrea del Castagno, St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1542
Venice, Church of San Zaccaria, San Tarasio Chapel

Fra Angelico, Four Evangelists
Italian, 1447-1449
Vatican City, St. Nicholas Chapel
Here St. John is shown as a bearded ancient, while at the same time, in other contexts and media, he was most prominently shown as the young, beardless man of a longstanding tradition.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Four Evangelists
Italian, 1485-1490
Florence, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Tornabuoni Chapel



Agnolo Bronzino, Sts. John the Evangelist, Mark, Francis of Assisi and Michael
Italian, ca. 1541
Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Chapel of Eleonora de Toledo
But, artists are always free to use either image, as two works by the sculptor, Alessandro Algardi, testify.  One is a full-length statue showing the beardless young man,


Alessandro Algardi, St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1629
Rome, Church of San Silvestro in Capite
Here the figure is identified as St. John by
the book, the eagle and the chalice. 


Alessandro Algardi, St. John the Evangelist
Italian, 1640-1650
Genoa, Church of SS. Vittore e Carlo
Interstingly, there are no specific attributes of the
saint included in this bust.  The identification is presumably
based on the fact that it appears to be the pendant (pair) to
a bust identified as St. Mary Magdalene.  The pair may
be identical to the two busts mounted on the fluted columns on either side of the
transept altar in SS. Vittore e Carlo, in which the central image
is the Crucifix.  The identification would then be logical as both
figures appear as witnesses of the Crucifixion. 
See image of the transept altar here.
the other is a bust showing a bearded, older man.


























In conclusion, we can say that, while artists could frequently choose how to imagine St. John the Evangelist in every art historical period, the image that had become the most common by the central middle ages was that of the beardless young man.
______________________________________
1. The Codex (plural = codices) is the form of book with which we today are most familiar, a series of leaves bound together along one edge to make a book. This form of book came into existence around the same time as the spread of Christianity. Prior to this the standard book form was the scroll. In the future the standard form is likely to be an electronic version that has some of the characteristics of both the scroll and the codex.