Artist: El Greco
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 90 x 77 cm
Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid.
TWENTY SAINTS IN TWENTY DAYS: PART 7 – ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST
The Apostle St John the Evangelist was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of James the Greater. Originally they were fishermen, and fished with their father in the Lake of Genesareth. In the Gospels the two brothers are often called after their father "the sons of Zebedee", and received from Christ the honorable title of Boanerges, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). John is the presumed author of the fourth gospel and, by tradition, the Beloved Disciple of that book, as well as the author of the Apocalypse, although scholarship does question at least some of these connections. One of the first to be called to follow Christ, he also witnesses with Peter and James the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37), the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and the Agony in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the Last Supper (Luke 22:8).
There is an analogous version of this painting in the Cathedral of Toledo, which is part of a series of the twelve Apostles called Apostolados. It is assumed by some scholars that this painting also belonged to a similar series. The saint’s attributes are a book or scroll, in allusion to his writings, an eagle which may hold a pen or inkhorn in its beak, or, as in this example, a chalice from which a snake emerges. This imagery commemorates the testimony that once, while at Ephesus, John was given a cup of poisoned wine to drink. Before drinking, he blessed the cup and the poison departed the cup in the form of a serpent.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco (1541 – April 1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Today considered one of the greatest artists of the Spanish school, El Greco was born in Crete, a Greek island then under Venetian control. Little is known of his youth, though El Greco's early works demonstrate that he worked within the conservative tradition of Byzantine icon painting before exposure to Venetian High Renaissance art broadened his stylistic approach. His workshop turned out a great many replicas of his paintings, but his work was so personal that his influence was slight, his only followers of note being his son Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos and Luis Tristan. The strangeness of his art has inspired various theories, for example that he was mad or suffered from astigmatism, but his rapturous paintings make complete sense as an expression of the religious fervor of his adopted country. Interest in his art revived at the end of the 19th century and with the development of Expressionism in the 20th century he came into his own.