ANDRÉ DURAND Twenty-First Century Paintings
SAINT JOHN EVANGELIST
Oil on linen
SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST, THE BELOVED APOSTLE
St. John the Evangelist is a disciple of Christ; he followed Jesus after the miraculous draught of fishes on the Sea of Galilee and was with him at the most important moments. At the foot of the Cross, he supported the failing Virgin. After the Apostles scattered, he traveled to Asia and settled in Ephesus with the Virgin. There he was arrested and thrown into burning oil, but was unhurt. Under Emperor Dominitian he was exiled to island Patmos, where in the company of an eagle he wrote the Revelations. After an amnesty he returned to Ephesus, where he composed his Gospel. There he survived an ordeal set by the high priest of Ephesus: he was unaffected by a beverage concocted from snake’s venom, when offered a chalice, St. John blessed it, and the venom in the form of a snake, was miraculously drawn from the liquid. A legend also says that he was lifted up in an Assumption by an angel. He is the patron saint of booksellers. In Christian art he is often depicted with an Eagle, symbolizing the heights to which he rises in the first chapter of his Gospel book (Gospel or Revelation), a snake or dragon emerging from a cup or chalice.
The eagle, the magnificent bird of prey, was used as the emblem of St. John, because in his Gospel St. John dwells particularly upon the Divinity of the Redeemer and contemplates with the unflinching eye of an eagle the highest truths. It was a popular belief among the ancients that the eagle could renew its youth by plunging three times into a spring of pure water, briefly alluded to by David: Thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 102:5), hence the ancient Christians, and later the medieval symbolists, used the eagle as a sign of baptism, the well-spring of salvation, in whose water the neophyte was dipped three times, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in order to wash from his soul the old man of sin and put on the youth of a child of light.