Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Man or Woman 4: 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>.

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