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Between and Mortarboard


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Works on display that are part of our guided tour and activities on 9/11/19

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos

Accession Number
1958/2.77

Title
St. John the Evangelist on Patmos

Artist(s)
Joos van Cleve; Lucas Gassel

Object Creation Date
circa 1525

Medium & Support
oil on panel, mounted on panel

Dimensions
28 1/4 in x 29 1/8 in (71.8 cm x 74 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
Here Saint John the Evangelist pauses, with his writing pen poised above the page and his attention arrested by the vision of the “woman clothed with the sun” hovering over the landscape. This celestial figure was described in his apocalyptic Book of Revelation (12:1–3), a work whose soaring visionary character is evoked by the eagle with outstretched wings, perched next to the saint. The celestial woman appears here as the Virgin and Child, which follows a symbolic interpretation of the passage from the Book of Revelation first put forth in the Middle Ages. Behind Saint John, a vast landscape bustles with human activity; it suggests the Greek island of Patmos where Saint John wrote the Revelation while in exile. For sixteenth-century viewers, the busy harbor scene also resembled port cities of their own time, complete with bridges, fortified walls, and church spires. Joos van Cleve perhaps drew inspiration from his home city of Antwerp, an important commercial and artistic center in which he ran a large workshop and enjoyed a position as one of the city’s foremost painters.

Subject matter
This painting depicts St. John the Evangelist writing the book of Revelation during his exile on the Greek island of Patmos. A pair of books, signifying the foundations of John's prophecy in the Old Testament, lie at his side, and an eagle, the symbol associated with John, has landed next to him. The saint fixes his attention upon the Virgin Mary who holds the infant Christ and hovers in the sky in a glowing mandorla as the "woman clothed with the sun" described in Revelation (12:1-6). The land falls away precipitously behind St. John and opens into a dramatic panorama of a bustling port and craggy mountains. Despite the great distance of the landscape we can discern, as if with telescopic eyes, myriad details that make the setting resemble sixteenth-century Flanders rather than a remote Mediterranean island.

Physical Description
St. John the Evangelist sits in the foreground with a book open on his knee and quill pen poised over its pages. Two books rest next to him and an eagle has alighted on an adjacent rock. St. John looks up and to his right to see a standing figure of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ, who appear in a glowing mandorla hovering in the sky. A vast panoramic view of a bustling harbor and formidable mountains unfolds behind St. John and extends into the distance.

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Primary Object Type
biblical

Additional Object Classification(s)
Ritual Object

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
Christianity
books
eagles (birds)
harbors
landscapes (representations)

18 Related Resources

Tour: Seasons
(Part of: Touring & Teaching)
Tour: Greetings!
(Part of: Touring & Teaching)
Selected Objects from Life in Ceramics: Five Korean Contemporary Artists
(Part of: Life in Ceramics: Five Korean Contemporary Artists)
Apocalypses
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Greek Cultural Influence
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Lives of Christian Saints
(Part of 6 Learning Collections)
Northern Renaissance and Reformation-Era Art
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Occult Mysticism in Western Art
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
The Divine Comedy
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Lesson Plan: See / Think / Wonder
(Part of: Pre-Visit Materials)
Greetings Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)
Seasons Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)

& Author Notes

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