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

These 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, 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

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.

Fra Angelico, Four Evangelists
Italian, 1447-1449
Vatican City, St. Nicholas Chapel

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. 

the other is a bust showing a bearded, older man.

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.

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.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Man or Woman/John the Evangelist or Mary Magdalene? – When Knowledge of Iconography Is Lost

Reproduction of "Last Supper" by Leonardo DaVinci
Marble, ca. 1920
New York, Church of St. Jean Baptiste
A few weeks ago I happened to meet a friend as she was showing our parish church to her nephew (a young man in his 20s). Our parish has retained its magnificent, original, elaborate altar from before Vatican II and, as is the case with many altars that date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the antependium (the front part of the altar, below the table) contains a replica of Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. Our replica is in the form of a marble relief. Her nephew had a question about this scene, which she told him would best be directed to me. His question was a common but highly contemporary one. “Isn’t the person seated to Jesus’ right hand in this image a woman?”

This question and variations of it are common in the wider contemporary culture, especially following such books/films as The DaVinci Code. The assumption apparently arises because the figure is shown with long hair and a beardless face, amidst all the bearded disciples. Hence, this reasoning suggests, it must be a woman. Further, thanks to the influence of the speculation contained in Dan Brown’s book and other similar works of fiction the reasoning continues, if it is a woman, it must be Mary Magdalene (interestingly never the Virgin Mary, His mother).  
Leonardo DaVinci, Last Supper
Italian, 1498
Milan, Santa Maria delle Grazie
This entire scenario and its wide acceptance points to the disastrous gap that has opened in shared public knowledge regarding images of Christian art during the 20th century and which continues to widen in the 21st. Signs and symbolic references that once were instantly readable by almost everyone in Europe and North America are now as obscure and misunderstood to modern eyes as the hieroglyphs of Egypt were to Europeans prior to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone which made it possible to decipher the ancient writings. It is time to review some of these signs and symbols in the hope of bringing some sanity to the situation.

Enamel Panel, Saint John the Evangelist
German (Rhine Valley), ca.1175-1200
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
John is here identified by name and is shown in the act of writing his 
Gospel, which begins with the words he has just written "In principio 
erat verbum"  ("in the beginning was God")
St. John the Evangelist, described in the Gospels as one of the two sons of Zebedee (with his brother John), was one of the Twelve Disciples and also is identified with the writer of the Gospel of John, the most theologically oriented and profound of the Four Gospels, two Epistles and the final book of the Bible, Revelations. He is also described as the “disciple whom Jesus loved".Further, he is one of the three disciples to whom Jesus manifested Himself in the Transfiguration and was the person to whom Jesus specifically commended his mother, Mary, as He hung on the Cross. So, John is no insignificant person and has frequently appeared in Christian art over the centuries. Thus, it is relatively easy to recover his iconography (the ways in which he is imaged).

The settings to which one may look with the expectation of finding images of St. John the Evangelist are numerous. He should appear in:
  • images drawn from the Gospels, including the Crucifixion, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, and the Agony in the Garden and in images of his calling by Jesus (in company with his brother James
  • in images of his later life and as an evangelist. His evangelist symbol is the eagle, whose presence in an image is a dead giveaway that the person in it is John.
  • in images that include symbols derived from stories of his later life, which we will see later.
In the coming days I will examine each of these image categories to determine how John has been shown in art and, finally, how this is reflected in that famous DaVinci painting.

© M. Duffy, 2014
1.  References to the "Beloved Disciple" occur only in the Gospel of John at: 
John 13:23 - at the Last Supper,
John 19:26 - at the foot of the Cross,
John 20:2  -  on the morning of the Resurrection,
John 21:7   - on the seashore at Galilee and
John 21:20  - in a reference made by Peter following the "Feed my sheep" dialogue on the Galilee shore. 

Lent in Rome: The Station Churches

A few days ago one of the priests in my parish brought my attention to a relatively new book on the subject of the station churches of Rome. It is called Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches and is written by theologian and biographer George Weigel, in collaboration with art historian Elizabeth Lev, with photographs by Weigel’s son, Stephen.

The title reminds us of an ancient practice in Rome, recently revived. In the early and medieval Roman church, the practice developed of a pilgrimage from an assembly church to the station church on each day during Lent. During the move from the church of assembly to the designated church of the day people would pray the litany of the saints. Mass at the station church for the day would be offered as the high point of the pilgrimage.
Crucifixion from Wooden Doors of Santa Sabina, the station
church for the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.
The doors are 5th century and this image of the Crucifixion is
the earliest known image.
Rome, Santa Sabina, 430-432

The practice fell out of use during the period of the Avignon papacy in the fourteenth century. This is the period in which the papacy was hijacked by the French monarchy and was based in Avignon in southern France. Through the hard work of saints such as Catherine of Siena and others Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome in 1377. However, the practice did not resume with this return, although the stations themselves were remembered in the Roman Missal, each day in Lent bearing the notation of the church that had been the station for that particular day.

It was not until the middle years of the 20th century that interest in resuming this ancient practice revived. According to Weigel, in 1959 Pope John XXIII came to the first station church, Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill, to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. But this action does not appear to have been repeated consistently until the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II and has been continued by his successors. (Below is footage of the event with Pope Francis).

It is also, according to Weigel, a project which has been spurred into revival primarily through the efforts of English speakers, notably the priests and seminarians of the Pontifical North American College of Rome.

Interior of St.John Lateran, the station church for several of the days:
the First Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Easter Vigil
and Saturday within the Octave of Easter.
Originally built by Constantine in 324, St. John Lateran is the mother
church of Christianity and the cathedral seat of the Popes.
The book is a guide through Lent as well as through the station churches. Weigel’s daily essays focus on reflections based on the readings for each day of Lent. Lev’s short essays focus on elements of the churches and their decoration and are fairly short. Many, though by no means all, of the churches have occasionally featured in this blog (and offer another suggestion for discovery on it). Photographs are primarily in black and white, though there are three short sections of color photographs. This was, I’m sure, a decision that was made with the price of the book in mind. To have produced a book of color photos would have made the cost prohibitive for most individuals. In compensation, I would suggest that those who wish to view color photographs peruse the internet in addition to viewing the photos in the book. Some of the resources that can be used are listed in the Useful Links section of this blog (see tabs are the top of the page).

Story of Joshua, Mosaic from St. Mary Major
the station church for Wednesday of the First
Week of Lent and for Wednesday of Holy Week
Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore, ca. early 5th century
Among the most interesting photographs are those taken during the actual station Masses that take place each day of Lent with the participants of the pilgrimage very much in evidence. That too is a very heartening thing to view for participation requires a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of the participants, since it begins each day in pre-dawn late winter darkness.

On the whole the book is a very worthwhile Lenten aid, offering intelligent meditations and a great deal of information on history and art in Rome and its implications for the wider, universal Church.
The book is available in hardcover and also as an ebook from both Amazon and the iTunes store.  I have the hardcover edition, but one can surmise that the ebook version for color readers might be of some value if it permits you to zoom into the photographs. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Special Lenten Event in Paris

The Crown of Thorns
(shown in modern reliquary)
Paris, Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
Over the centuries the individual thorns have been
removed and distributed throughout Europe as
"daughter" relics.

On the Fridays of Lent the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris displays its most famous relics. These are the relics of the Passion of Christ, acquired by St. Louis in 1239. These are the remains of the Crown of Thorns, a portion of the True Cross and one of the Nails of the Passion. These are the relics which Louis, stripped of the trappings of his position, welcomed with humility to his capital on August 10, 1239. These are the relics for which he built the beautiful, delicate and dazzling Sainte Chapelle as a kind of jewel box reliquary.

Interior of Sainte Chapelle
Paris, 1239-1248
The relics have a long and amazing history, reaching back to the fourth century when they were located by St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. They were located in Jerusalem until moved for safety to Imperial Byzantium. There they remained until they were sold to the pious St. Louis, Louis IX of France, in 1239.  
St. Louis Carrying the Crown of Thorns,
French (Tours), 1245-1248,
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Cloisters Collection
This stained glass, made during the
lifetime of St. Louis, shows Louis
and his brothers as they welcomed the
sacred relics of the Passion to Paris n 1239.
They have been in Paris or its suburbs ever since. During the French Revolution they were kept at Saint Denis, outside Paris, and returned to Church in 1806. Since the Sainte Chapelle is no longer used for its original purpose, they have been housed in the Cathedral ever since.

The relics are on view for veneration on Fridays at 3 PM and on Good Friday from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Hail Glorious St. Patrick!

St. Patrick in Stained Glass
Unknown origin, 19th-early 20th Century
Location Unknown
In spite of not knowing the origin or location of this window I am drawn to the 
image of St. Patrick that it presents -- an intense man in the prime of life.  This
is probably how he might have looked at the start of his Irish mission.
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation."

(Excerpt from the Lorica, or Breastplate, of St. Patrick)

On March 17th, in many places around the world, special celebrations take place. In the United States the city of Chicago dies its river green, while in New York Fifth Avenue is transformed into a parade ground over which thousands of people parade in front of thousands of other people. All the events purport to honor the memory of a man who lived in the 5th century. His name was Patrick (actually Patricius) and he is the patron saint of Ireland and of the Irish.
The story of Patrick is fairly well known. Born in what was still Roman Britain, he was kidnapped by Irish slave raiders while still a teenager and brought to then-pagan Ireland. There he was sold as a slave to a landowner who put him to work as a shepherd. After six years of slavery, during which Patrick spent much of his time in prayer, he had a dream in which he was told that a ship awaited that would take him home. Patrick followed the dream message and fled his slavery. He did find a ship and reached home.

After a short time at home Patrick again had a dream. In this dream he heard what he called the “voice of the Irish” calling to him to come back and bring them the Gospel. He again followed the dream message, became a priest and then a bishop and returned to Ireland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Patrick was not the only missionary to the Irish, there were others as well, including some who were native Irish, but it is he who is remembered best.  His mission field appears to have been located between the north of the country and the midlands, while the south appears to have been evangelized by others.  Patrick is credited with some of the most high profile conversions among the Irish.  He is also credited with an elegant demonstration of the Holy Trinity, using the native three-lobed clover, called 'seamróg’, to demonstrate the doctrine of the Three in One.

Patrick’s contribution to art is not direct. He did not create any art that we know of and there are few images of him that are not very late and derivative. BUT, the impetus given by Patrick and the other Christian missionaries to art in Ireland is immeasurable. In the centuries following their conversion Irish artists created a unique merger of the old Celtic La Tène art forms with the narrative forms inherent in the late antique Christian images which came to them from the Continent. This fusion produced some of the most impressive works of the early middle ages.
Ruins of the monastery of Clonmacnoise
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

This was a golden age for Ireland. The monasteries were filled with clerics studying both pagan and Christian literature and creating their own works from their thought. In addition to this they collected and set down the old pre-Christian legends of Ireland, which would have been lost given the turmoil that would beset that country in centuries to come. It has long been acknowledged that during the years of invasion that brought down the remains of the Roman Empire and the aftermath (called collectively the “Dark Ages”) it was the activities of the Irish monasteries that kept classical learning alive in Western Europe. Irish monks were missionaries to Dark Age Britain and Europe, returning to the Continent what they had received and taking it forward into the new medieval age.

Among the great works of art produced during this golden age were:

The Insular Style of manuscript painting, most famously the amazing Book of Kells1

Chi Rho
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 34r
Madonna and Child 
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 7v

Image of Christ, Saint Matthew
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 28v

Image of Christ Enthroned 
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 32v

Arrest of Christ
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 114r

Temptation of Christ
from Book of Kells
Irish, 6th century
Dublin, Trinity College Library
MS 58, fol. 202v
The High Crosses of Irish monasteries, such as those at Clonmacnoise and Monasterboice
Cross of the Scriptures (replica)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
Here you can get an idea of the scale of the
high crosses.

Center image of Cross of the Scriptures (original)
Irish, 10th century
Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly
The original cross is now preserved indoors at the
Clonmacnoise Interpretive Center.

Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Central Image of Cross of Muiredach
Irish, 10th century
Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Amazingly intricate metalwork, including

Ardagh Chalice
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The chalice is much larger than the typical
chalice used for liturgy in later periods.
The Ardagh Chalice

Ardagh Chalice (detail)
Irish, 8th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

The Clonmacnoise Crozier
Crozier of Clonmacnoise
Irish, Late 11th century
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

The Cross of Cong.
This is probably the most complex and beautiful metal object produced in Ireland in the early middle ages.  It is also the climax of the style.  During the second half of the 12th century Ireland came more and more under English control and lost much of its unique and separate artistic identity.2
Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

Central section, Cross of Cong
Irish, 1123
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland
The central crystal ornament once covered a
small fragment of the True Cross.

Detail of Cross of Cong showing details of
filigree work, casting, enameling and jewel setting
Additional detail of the Cross of Cong

On a small personal note -- It is interesting to me that two of the names inscribed on the cross belong to two people with my own last name:  Muiredach Ua Dubthaig (Muiredach O'Duffy) and Domnall mac Flannacain Ui Dubthaig (Donal mac Flanagan O'Duffy), both of whom were important churchmen.  The other inscribed names are those of the High King of Ireland, Turlough O'Conor, and of the craftsman who made it (probably the supervisor of the grouip that made it).  The inscription is in Latin and Irish and runs around the edges of the cross.   The translated inscription reads:
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered
A prayer for Muiredach Ua Dubthaig, senior ecclesiastic of Ireland
A prayer for Tairdelbach Ua Conchobair, king of Ireland, by whom was made this ornament
A prayer for Domnall mac Flannacáin Uí Dubthaig from the borders of Connacht, successor of Commán and Ciarán, by whom was made this ornament
A prayer for Máel Ísu mac Bratáin Uí Echach, who made this ornament
+ By this cross is covered the cross on which the creator of the world suffered 2
1.  Obtaining free images of the illustrations in the Book of Kells that are decent quality is very difficult.  Understandably Trinity College Library is very protective of their prize possession and of their copyright privileges.  However, you can view them in incredible detail at their website.  The entire Book of Kells is available online at the Trinity College Digital Collections website at


© M. Duffy, 2012 and 2016