Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

St John the Evangelist

I have always identified St John the Evangelist as my name-saint - being a bit squeamish it is probably because he was the one Apostle not to be martyred - and perhaps also because the Cluniac priory in my home town was under his patronage. Anyway I do rather like the mystical and theological approach to faith. Thinking about it as I get older I think I should maybe identify with St John the Baptist and indulge in my urge to tell the brood of vipers what I really think, and go round preaching repentence - but I do want people to like me, so maybe not...

St John the Evangelist has not, to my mind, provided the inspiration for artists that the Baptist has. Too often he is depicted as a long haired rather effeminate young man, and not really the mystical theologian of the New Testament texts, still less one of the sons of thunder with a pushy mother...

This painting by Memling is rather better in conveying something of the meditative quality of St John, and anyway it is late medieval and therefore, ipso facto, good.

St. John The Evangelist

St John the Evangelist
Hans Memling c.1430 -1494

Image: artexpertswebsite.com

Here are both St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist in the same artist' s Mystic Marriage of St Catherine from the St John Altarpiece of 1474-79 which is in Bruges - the other female saint in the composition is St Barbara:

The Mystic Marriage Of St. Catherine Of Alexandria (central panel of the San Giovanni Polyptch) - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org

Here is Memling's panel from the same altarpiece showing St John on Patmos:

St John Altarpiece (right wing) 1474-79 - Hans Memling - www.hansmemling.org

There is great charm and delicacy in Hieronymous Bosch's 1485 painting of St John on Patmos:



Although there is something of the nice young man from Sotheby's or Christie's holding up an object at an auction to the figure, and it is a really rather splendid chalice, there is more of both youthful impetuousness and conviction as well as the intensity of devotion and of mysticism in El Greco's paintings of him, as here:


Image: southbear.com

1 comment:

John F H H said...

I have always liked to think of John, the beloved disciple, as the youngest of the 12. Perhaps just bar-mitzvah'd or whatever the expression is and thus qualified to make up the quorum in the synagogue.
That would mean his walking alongside Christ from the ages of, say, 13-16: a deeply impressionable time in any young man's life. It would mean his having been born about A.D.20, and give him ample years in which to reflect, and would strengthen the claims opf the early fathers for his having lived into the second century.
Kind regards
John [named for the Baptist, although arrived a week late!]